Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 End of Year Book Survey

I say this every single year but... THIS YEAR HAS GONE BY SO FAST! While the quick passing of time often freaks me out, I have to admit that I could not be happier that 2016 is almost over! While it has been an okay year for me personally, I feel like so much has happened around the world that has managed to make me anxious about the future.

I am happy to say though that books have been one of the main guiding lights I have had in my life this year (this probably comes as no surprise to any reader out there) and I am so looking forward to putting this post together and reading the surveys of fellow readers.

I am using the template from Jamie's blog like I did last year because it is a fun way to share your post within a wider reading community.

Number of books read: 87
Number of re-reads: 1
Most read genre: YA Contemporary

1. Best book read in 2016: I need to cheat a little and divide this into categories. My favorite novel of 2016 is The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (my review), which not only made me sob uncontrollably but also gave me a sense of hope and promise and so much more.

I am quite proud of myself for reading much more non-fiction this year than I have done ever before. My favorite non-fiction book of 2016 is definitely the brilliantly researched and narrated Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge (my review) which discusses the gun deaths of children/young adults in the United States via stories about the victims of gun violence (Younge has randomly picked out a day to focuses on all the losses of young lives due to guns on that one particular day).

2. Book I was excited about & thought I was going to love more but didn't: The Distance from A to Z by Natalie Blitt (my review). The synopsis for this one sounded like something I would love, but unfortunately I had hard time reading this one. 

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book I read: Probably The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (my review). I had been meaning to read this book for such a long time, probably since we went through Plath's poetry in high school back in 2010 or something like that. I had no idea what to expect from this book, and I was incredibly surprised to notice how this book was able to suck me in to the story. I remember reading this past midnight to like 2 AM on a night before an early class. I was tired the next day, but it was totally worth it!

4. Book I "pushed" the most people to read: Probably The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. I read this book as an ARC and have been telling people how awesome it is since then.

5. Best series I started in 2016. Best sequel of 2016. Best series ender of 2016: I did not read a lot of series this year, mostly because I know myself and the fact that I have a hard time keeping up with series. Just a few days before the end of the year, I read the first book in Sarina Bowen's True North series called Bitter Sweet and I definitely want to read more of the books on that series.

For best sequel, I will go with The Mistake by Elle Kennedy (my review). I did not like this one as much as I did the first book, but still thoroughly enjoyed the romance and the hot hockey playing love interests. 

6. Favorite new author I discovered: I could mention several authors here, and that is what I will do. 

I am glad I picked up The Serpent King and discovered Jeff Zentner and I am now sure whatever he writes will be added to my to-read list.

I absolutely LOVED All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (my review) and will definitely want to read anything else she has written/writes.

I also read my very first Alice Walker novel this year and can't wait to pick up more of her writing in the future!

7. Best book from a genre I don't typically read/a book that was out of my comfort zone: I very rarely read Finnish literature, but I read Maresi: Punaisen luostarin kronikoita (translated into English as Maresi) by Maria Turtschaninoff in late 2016 and really enjoyed it. In addition to being Finnish literature (it was originally published in Swedish, but the author is Finnish), it is also fantasy, which is definitely also out of my comfort zone.

8. Most unputdownable book of the year: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood. I went into this book not knowing much about it and was instantly sucked into the story that spans a number of years in the lives of interesting and intriguing characters.

9. Book I read in 2016 that I am most likely to re-read next year: I think I am likely to pick up finished copies of some of the 2017 ARCs I read in 2016, especially Becky Albertalli's upcoming The Upside of Unrequited

10. Favorite cover of a book I read in 2016: Definitely the US cover for The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (my review)

11. Most memorable character of 2016: Wavy from All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood. Also pretty much every single character from The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016: The Universe of Us by Lang Leav

13. Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2016: I have to go with Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge. 

14. Book I can't believe I waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read: The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book I read in 2016: 

“I liked learning things. How numbers worked together to explain the stars. How molecules made the world. All the ugly and wonderful things people had done in the last two thousand years.” (All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood)

16. Shortest & the longest book I read in 2016: The shortest book I read this year is Lumberjanes #6 by Noelle Stevenson. The longest book I read is The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson.

17. The book that shocked me the most: I am going with Another Day in the Death of America for this one as well because reading the stories of these people made me once again realize what a huge issue gun legislation is in America.

18. OTP of the year: Andie and Clark from The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson.

19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year: The female friendships in Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

20. Favorite book I read in 2016 from an author I had read previously: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson.

21. Best book I read in 2016 that I read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book I read in 2016: Clark from The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson.

23. Best 2016 debut: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

24. Best worldbuilding/most vivid setting I read this year: The Color Purple by Alice Walker and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood share this spot! Both managed to build a setting so vivid and tangible that I actually felt like I was there while reading these books.

25. The book that put a smile on my face/was the most fun to read: The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You by Lily Anderson was such a fun book to read! 

26. The book that made me cry in 2016: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. A lot of books made me cry this year, but this is the one I remember most vividly.

27. The hidden gem of the year: I feel like a lot of people have not been talking about this, so I want to mention it here: All the Have Left by Wendy Mills.

28. Book that crushed by soul: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner.

29. The most unique book I read in 2016: Ghostland by Colin Dickey. This one was a random pick for me, and I found it extremely interesting. I had so much fun while reading this book.

30. The book that made me the maddest: Crippled America: How To Make America Great Again by Donald Trump. I read this for a lecture series I attended and I still have a heard time believing this dumdum is going to be the President of the United States.

What were your favorite books of 2016? Let me know in the comments or let's talk about books at Twitter -- you can find me from @milkamilka!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Poetry Recommendations: The Universe of Us by Lang Leav & milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

The Universe of Us by Lang Leav

milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

Rather than doing something reminiscent of a proper poetry analysis/review, I decided to go with something a bit more laid back and just share some of my thoughts about these poetry collections alongside a couple of graphics I made using my favorite pieces from the books. 


Lang Leav and Rupi Kaur were both new finds for me that I spotted from the Best of 2016 vote from Goodreads. I had seen milk and honey circulating in Twitter conversations, and the fact that it was slated as feminist poetry instantly caught my attention. milk and honey is definitely a lot more raw than The Universe of Us , dealing with issues like loss, one's right to govern her own body, and so on. The Universe of Us is a bit more centered on relationships and all kinds of love, importantly also the importance of loving yourself. 

I read poetry quite quickly, and once I have finished with a collection, I tend to go back and read my favorites again. This definitely happened with both of these collections -- they are quick reads, but if you really want to think about what you are reading, it is possible to spend extensive amounts of time with the individual pieces of writing. 


Excerpts from The Universe of Us

Excerpts from milk and honey


Have you read either of these collections? What was your favorite piece of poetry you read in 2016?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (Review)

Release date: November 15th, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter
Publisher: Touchstone

Description (from Goodreads):

A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch PerfectUp in the AirTwilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

Man, I am not sure what to think of this one, mostly because it was not really what I expected it to be. About halfway through the book I almost felt like giving up, but I am happy that I read until the end, because it does get better (I know a lot of people think you should not have to wait til the end for something to get good, but I think it was worth it with this one). And it is not like the first part was horrible. It just wasn't what I expected it would be.

I saw Up in the Air around the time it premiered, and I am of course familiar with the first few Twilight Saga films (I think I still haven't seen the very last film, which Kendrick makes reference to here), but it wasn't really until Pitch Perfect that I fully took notice of Anna Kendrick. I love Pitch Perfect, I think it is a brilliant film, and Anna Kendrick is amazing in it. 

When I have read books similar to this, like those written by Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, I have known much more about the authors before starting with the books. With Anna, I feel like I didn't know much, if anything, about the early days of her career (I had no idea she had been on Broadway). While I found those interesting, I couldn't really enjoy the ride, because I just continually kept waiting for essays about something I already know about her. 

Kendrick has taken a very chronological approach with her essays, proceeding from her childhood and the early days of her career to her late-teens at Los Angeles, and from there to her growing fame. While this approach might seem the most logical one, after finishing with the book, I kept thinking how much more I would have personally enjoyed it if the essays were a bit more sporadically spread. Thus, I wouldn't have had to wait til the very end to read about the Anna Kendrick I know through her more recent work. 

Anna Kendrick on screen in funny, but I am not so sure whether Anna Kendrick on page is my cup of tea, when it comes to humoristic content. I love dry, sarcastic humor, which I think Kendrick represents on screen, but her version of it on page just didn't fully deliver. There are some chuckle worthy moments there, but in general, I was kind of surprised of the fact that this book was a lot less funny than I expected it to be.

But hey, I need to bring up one of the greatest things I have ever read, which is this:
"If you think girls are supposed to object to sex until they find themselves incapable of resisting your magic penis, fuck you."
If all goes well, Kendrick has decades left in Hollywood, which means that she can come up with several more books like this. If you are looking for tales about Kendrick in Hollywood, maybe wait for the next installment. But if you are interested in Kendrick and her background, her days of struggling as a young actress in a shared L.A. apartment, then this might be just for you.

"I think self-doubt is healthy. And having to fight for the thing you want doesn't mean you deserve it any less."

"I gave up on being Nice. I started putting more value on other qualities instead: passion, bravery, intelligence, practicality, humor, patience, fairness, sensitivity. 

"I will always put work before relationships, I will always think that children aren't for me, I will always find Buccaneer Days baffling."


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

More Than Friends by Jody Holford (Review)

Release date: December 5th, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Entangled Publishing LLC - Bliss

(review copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review)

Description (from Goodreads):

Owen Burnett planned on a quiet, easygoing Christmas, hanging out with his best friend and neighbor, Gabby Michaelson. So when his mom pressures him to come home for the holidays, he tells a little white lie…that he’s spending the holidays with his new girlfriend. But when his family shows up unexpectedly, Owen pulls the best friend card and asks Gabby to play his fake girlfriend.

Gabby’s been hopelessly in love with her best friend Owen for what feels like forever, but playing his "fake" girlfriend when the entire boisterous Burnett clan visits is easier said than done. The more she tries to deny the attraction between them, the more obvious their chemistry becomes. But even though she's not the only one feeling it, putting their friendship on the line is a risk she can’t take.

I don't pick up books like this very often, but almost every time I do, I keep telling myself I should do it more often. I am obsessed with romantic Hallmark movies, and while I read this, I kept thinking that this story is like a Hallmark movie, just in a literary form. 

While Hallmark movies might be trash for some, I absolutely love them, mostly because there is comfort in knowing that there will be a happy ending in the future. As the title of this suggests, the characters end up being more than friends. Rather than spending time questioning whether falling in love will happen, you can take comfort in the knowledge that it will, and rather focus on enjoying the experience of finding out HOW it all happens. 

Owen is a geeky tech guy who works from home. He likes his solitude and lives his life by certain kind of order. His best friend and neighbor Gabby is his total opposite in many ways, but it is impossible for his to imagine his life without her.

When Owen tells his family that he wants to spend the Christmas with his girlfriend, he soon finds himself faced with a problem. Lying about a relationship in hopes of avoiding the hustle and bustle of family Christmas does not work out quite the way he expected. His family is coming over for the holidays and he has to find a girlfriend for himself before that. Or could he just continue the lie and fake a relationship with someone who knows him better than anyone else?

This is where Gabby comes in. She has been in love with Owen for a while now, and while she knows faking a relationship with Owen will probably hurt her in the long run, she cannot resist the chance to see whether she actually has chemistry with him. But as Owen's family arrives, the fake relationship gets deeper and suddenly starts to feel so much more real than expected for both Owen and Gabby.

I think books like this have to be approached with a mindset that does not insist on questioning every single decision the characters make. That is often hard for me, but More than Friends managed to pull me in in a way that made it possible for me just to enjoy the ride. Sure, I kept questioning Owen's decision to lie in the first place and his choice to keep up with the lie. And yes, I found the weird robbery story line that takes place on the side a bit unnecessary and questioned the author's decision to include it there (though if this ends up being a series, then it makes more sense, because through that story line the author was able to introduce other people who live in the building). 

Gabby and Owen are both likable as characters, and I really enjoyed their interaction together. Since this book is quite short, quite a bit happens in a short span of time, but then fact that they have been friends for a long time makes it easier to believe that they suddenly fall in love. Owen's family is also filled with interesting personalities, and I definitely would not mind reading more about them, if there is to be continuations for this novel. 

As I said, I could totally see this one as a Hallmark Christmas movie. There are actually quite many of these "I need someone to pretend to be my boyfriend/girlfriend for the holidays" films out there, but I liked these characters so much that I think they could add a wonderful addition to Hallmark's line-up. 

If you are looking for a romantic, quick book to read during the holidays, definitely check out More than Friends by Jody Holford. And if you are like me and love Hallmark romances, you DEFINITELY should give this one a go!


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

ReadReadRead's Holly Jolly List of Romantic Holiday Movies - Part 2

December is here and I am so happy!

Christmas is my favorite time of the year for so many reasons. I get to spend time with my family. Stores are filled with all kinds of chocolate. People put up Christmas lights and all of a sudden it isn't that dark outside. You can hear Christmas music everywhere. Television is full of Christmas specials. 

Importantly, Christmas is also a time for Christmas movies. Christmas movies have had a special place in my heart since I was a child and within the last few years, I feel like I have started Christmas movies earlier and earlier. Not sure whether I should be embarrassed or not, but this year I watched my first Christmas movie in September. Yep, you read that right. 

While there are awesome Christmas classics out there, films like White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Elf and The Polar Express, my favorite type of Christmas films are those of a romantic inclination producer for television by companies like Hallmark and Marvista Entertainment. Movies that are often super predictable, but an absolute comfort to watch.

This year, I have put together a list of 20 such films I want to share with you. I don't expect many of you to want to watch 20 of such films during the holidays, but I hope that you can find even one or two to put on while having a cup of hot chocolate and a box of chocolates.

I shared the first ten films with you yesterday and now is the turn of the other 10 films. Let me know if you have seen any of these or if you plan to watch any of them during this holiday season.


A princess of a small European nation visiting New York decides to escape her responsibilities and runs away. She meets a man who shows her around the city, not knowing her true identity.

+ Paul Campbell is so dreamy
+ I love these Royal/Commoner storylines

After trying to pursue her dream of becoming an actress, a woman travels from New York City back to her small hometown where she reconnects with a group of old friends. Could she find her dreams from her hometown and leave New York behind?

+ I really like Sarah Lancaster
+ The guy is MASSIVELY cute

Mrs. Miracle (2009)

A widower hires a mysterious Mrs. Miracle to take care of his two sons. Quickly, this charming and somewhat magical older woman becomes irreplaceable as a friend, caretaker and a possibly even a matchmaker. 

+ Doris Roberts is an absolute treasure!

A young woman, who is taking care of her niece and nephew after they were orphaned, travels to a small European country to give the kids a chance to spend time with their grandfather. While trying to be a parent for the two young children, she starts to fall for a young prince.

+ young Sam Heughan!!
+ Royal/Commoner storyline

Let is Snow (2013)

A young executive travels to a rustic lodge to prepare herself for a business presentation that could drastically change the atmosphere of the family lodge. As she spends time with the son of the owner's, she starts to rethink her business plan.

+ Candace Cameron Bure (I might not agree with many of her personal opinions, but I like her as an actress)

A modern reimagining of Beauty and the Beast. Belle, who works for her father, travels to facilitate an estate sale of a mansion and meets the serious, handsome owner of the house. 

+ Haylie Duff used to be like the queen of this kind of films, but unfortunately hasn't done anything new for this holiday season

Miranda has never known her father. When she finds a clue about who her father could be from her mother's old possessions, Miranda travels to a small town in search of answers. 

+ Erin Krakow is probably my favorite actress who often frequents Hallmark productions

After the daughter of a widower writes to Santa Claus, asking for her mother to find happiness, the struggling writer ghostwriting as Santa Claus answers to the girl's mother. They connect via letters until a work assignment takes the man to the small town where the woman he is falling in love with through letters resides in.

+ The little girl is really good and not annoying at all
+ Loved the letter-writing aspect

A divorced woman meets a handsome military sergeant at a ski lodge. When the man is suddenly called on a work assignment, they are separated for almost a year, until their paths cross again. Can she get used to the military lifestyle, or is their love doomed even before it can begin?

A Snow Capped Christmas (aka Falling for Christmas) (2016)

An injured figure skater travels to a clinic at the mountains to recover herself for an important competition. She meets a handsome ex-ice hockey star and sparks fly!

+ FREAKING EX HOCKEY PLAYER (it's almost like this was made for me)


Have you seen any of these? What are some of your favorite movies to watch during the holidays?

Monday, December 5, 2016

ReadReadRead's Holly Jolly List of Romantic Holiday Movies - Part 1

December is here and I am so happy!

Christmas is my favorite time of the year for so many reasons. I get to spend time with my family. Stores are filled with all kinds of chocolate. People put up Christmas lights and all of a sudden it isn't that dark outside. You can hear Christmas music everywhere. Television is full of Christmas specials.

Importantly, Christmas is also a time for Christmas movies. Christmas movies have had a special place in my heart since I was a child and within the last few years, I feel like I have started watching Christmas movies earlier and earlier. Not sure whether I should be embarrassed or not, but this year I watched my first Christmas movie in September. Yep, you read that right.

While there are awesome Christmas classics out there, films like White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Elf and The Polar Express, my favorite type of Christmas films are those of a romantic inclination produced for television by companies like Hallmark and Marvista Entertainment. Movies that are often super predictable, but an absolute comfort to watch. 

This year, I have put together a list of 20 such films I want to share with you. I don't expect many of you to want to watch 20 of such films during the holidays, but I hope that you can find even one or two to put on while having a cup of hot chocolate and a box of chocolates. 

I will share the first 10 films from my list today and post the second part of this list tomorrow! Please let me know if you have seen any of these or if you plan to watch some of them this holiday season. 

By clicking the names of the films, you will be directed to their IMDb pages.


After her boyfriend breaks up with her, Noelle travels to the countryside with her co-worker Liam and her new puppy to Liam's home for Christmas. While Liam waits for his fiance to make an appearance, his relationship with Noelle starts to get beyond professional. 

+ cute puppy
+ cute guy

Layla gains a fake fiance while attending the wedding of her cousin and the man she was supposed to marry. How far can they take the fake engagement without actually falling in love?

+ Jessica Lowndes is not only a good actress but also incredibly beautiful
+ Daniel Lissing is like a freaking Disney prince

Two strangers are forced to share a room in a B&B when their flight is cancelled due to a snowstorm. 

+ It is sooooooo nice to see Mayim Balik as something else than Amy from The Big Bang Theory

Holly, an astronomer and a Christmas lover, travels to New York to surprise her family and her boyfriend. On her way home, she meets Luke and forms an instant connection with him.

+ I have a weakness for Southern guys and the love interest in this film is a freaking cowboy
+ a scholarly female lead

A famous actress (pretty much a Hallmark version of Jennifer Lawrence) travels to a small town to film a new movie and meets the town's young, handsome mayor.

+ the guy is played by the actor who plays Kostas in The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants 

Duncan cares for his sick wife Suzy with the help of Natalie, a young nurse. In an attempt to give Suzy a Christmas memory she will never forget, Duncan buys an old Ferris Wheel. With the help of Tommy, a young landscape designer, the Ferris Wheel starts to take its shape as relationships develop.

+ Mandy Moore

A spontaneous kiss with a mystery guy Wendy thinks she will never meet again gets more complicated when she realizes that the guy is actually the boyfriend of her demanding boss and the owner of the house she is supposed to decorate for the holidays. 

+ I love the representation of friendships
+ Jerrika Hinton before she was in Grey's Anatomy

A lawyer is forced to spend time in an old inn in order to get everything in order after the owner of the inn dies. She soon learns that the house is haunted and is very much able to see the man behind the haunting. Is it possible to fall in love with a ghost?

+ While there are some plotholes here, I really enjoyed the somewhat paranormal element of this film
+ The guy is super hot in those early 1900s clothes

Two strangers decide to join forces and fake a relationship to get through the holidays and the challenges that come with the Christmas period.

+ I loved Jaime King in Hart of Dixie and she is pretty good in this one as well!

Two department-store window decorators are pitted against each other when they are told there is a vacancy for only one for them once the holidays are over. 

+ Chyler Leigh's Lexi was one of my favorite characters in Grey's Anatomy and I always love seeing her in something else (I know she is in Supergirl now!)
+ Paul Campbell is probably my favorite guy who frequents these Hallmark films.


A second set of 10 films will be shared here on ReadReadRead tomorrow!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey (Review)

Release date: October 4th, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 320

Description (from Goodreads):

An intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history, Ghostland takes readers on a road trip through some of the country's most infamously haunted places--and deep into the dark side of our history.

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America's ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and "zombie homes," Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as "the most haunted mansion in America," or "the most haunted prison"; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.   
       With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living--how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made--and why those changes are made--Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we're most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.

When it comes to all things supernatural or religious, I am a skeptic. If I can see it, then I can perhaps believe it. But before that, I will have a lot of questions. While I might not be a believer, there are a lot of them out there. Dickey states at the beginning of his book that

"According to one poll, 45 percent of Americans say they believe in ghosts, and almost 30 percent say they've witnessed them firsthand. Though this believe lies outside the ways we normally explain the world -- contradicting science and complicating religion -- it's a difficult belief to shake. That we continue believing in ghosts despite our rational mind's skepticism suggests that in these stories lies something crucial to the way we understand the world around us. We cannot look away, because we know something is important there."
Colin Dickey's Ghostland is not the kind of book I would usually pick up, but for some reason, I felt myself gravitating toward it after reading a multiple reviews for it during the Halloween season. Though I don't necessarily believe in ghosts, I have always liked ghost stories and tales of haunted places. I even have my own experience of being on a ghost hunt (more of that later on in this review), which might have provided an extra pull for picking this book up.

In Ghostland, Colin Dickey covers quite an impressive array of stories about haunted houses, haunted public places like banks and hospitals, haunted outdoor sites, and even haunted cities. Some were familiar to me beforehand, some were completely new. 

If you are looking for a list of haunted places in the US, look elsewhere, because while this does cover a number of haunted places around the US, it is not simply a catalog of haunted places, but rather a study of why and how those haunted places have come to be and why people still believe in then. 

For me, the first half of the book was more interesting than the latter part, but all and all, as a whole, this book was satisfyingly entertaining read. I especially liked the chapters focused on the haunted private properties (houses), which is the very first section of the book, and the chapter that focused on the architecture and hauntings of old mental hospitals.

Writing about haunted houses, Dickey says:

"A haunted house is a memory place made real: a psychical space that retains memories that might otherwise be forgotten or that might remain only in fragments. Under the invisible weight of these memories, the habits of those who once haunted these places, we fell the shudder of the ghost." 
 He also argues:
"The haunted house is precisely that which should be homey, should be welcoming -- the place one lives inside -- but which has somehow become emptied out of its true function. It is terrifying because it has lost its purpose yet stubbornly persists. Neither alive nor dead but undead, the haunted house is a thing in between."
Some of the haunted houses Dickey writes about are the Merchant's House Museum in Manhattan and the House of the Seven Gables (also known as Turner House or Turner-Ingersoll Mansion) in Salem. The House of the Seven Gables probably rings a bell for fans of Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose novel from the 1850s was inspired by the very house. You can see a commercial for the house, which is now a museum, from the video below (interestingly, the museum itself does not seem to be trying to make a bank with the possible hauntings to be found from the house, but information about those can be found easily online).

Dickey also mentions Myrtle's plantation in Louisiana as one of the most famous haunted sites in the US and writes briefly about the ghost of Chloe, a young slave who resided at the plantation. When you google "myrtles plantation" and look for images, it instantly gives you hits featuring Chloe's ghost, images that allegedly feature her. 

In addition to sites associated with slavery, many locations in the United States have been alleged to be haunted by Native spirits. As you might recall, many horror movies set in the United States involve haunted houses built on Indian burial sites. Dickey writes about these narratives in following way:

"The narrative of the haunted Indian burial ground hides a certain anxiety about the land on which Americans -- specifically white, middle-class Americans -- live. Embedded deep in the idea of home ownership -- the Holy Grail on American middle-class life -- is the idea that we don't, in fact, own the land we've just bought. Time and time again in these stories, perfectly average, innocent American families are confronted by ghosts who have persevered for centuries, who remain vengeful for the damage done. Facing these ghosts and expelling them, in many ways of these horror stories, becomes a means of refighting the Indian Wars of the past centuries."
I think for me, one of the most interesting haunted places covered in the book was The Winchester Mystery House, which is located in San Jose, California. The house, which does not seem to end, features a number of secret rooms and hideaways. There are so many interesting pictures of it online, and after looking through those, I must admit I would not mind visiting it one day. Also, as I suspected while reading about the house, the name of the mansion was a source for the last name of Sam and Dean of the show Supernatural

I am a massive Stanley Kubrick fan, and The Shining is one of my favorite films ever. I had read about The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado before, but I was happy to see it included in this book. The hotel, which hosted Stephen King at a time, worked as an inspiration for the Overlook Hotel and the 1997 miniseries based on the book was filmed there. While the exteriors for the Kubrick film were filmed elsewhere, the Stanley Hotel as a site definitely interest me. Fun fact: the hotel shows The Shining on a continuous loop on one of the channel's available through guest room televisions.

Having an access to the internet is a true blessing while reading a book like this, because you can go online and search for pictures of these places Dickey is writing about. I kept highlighting the names of the different places mentioned in this book while reading, and after I finished with the book, I spent a fair amount of time going through the places I had just read about.

As a media scholar, I found the way Dickey was able to bring up the influence of the online culture within the communities who believe in the paranormal quite interesting. He also manages to discuss the fact that with platforms like YouTube, access to alleged paranormal footage has been made easier also for those who are not involved in the paranormal communities in general, i.e. the general public. Viral videos start to circulate and the more they get exposure, the more people start to believe in them. And while many videos with a paranormal nature are proved to be wrong, that information does not reach everyone, which means that there are individuals who hold their belief to what they have seen. 

A recent paranormal story and one that made rounds online is that focused on the death of Elisa Lam in 2013. Lam, a Canadian student visiting L.A., was staying at the Cecil hotel when she mysteriously disappeared. Almost three weeks after her last sighting, her body was discovered from a water tank located at the roof of the hotel. While her story might otherwise have remained just a tragic mystery, the elevator security video, which circulated online, raised questions about the possible paranormal involvement in her death. 

The video featuring her in the elevator has been watched millions of times -- it is difficult to say exactly how many views it has got, because it has circulated so widely. I remember seeing it on Facebook at the time, and the version I now accessed from YouTube has almost 17 million views. I won't insert the video here directly, because I am not quite sure how to feel about it, but if you want to watch it, you can see it from here (there is no sound in there and it is not violent or anything, but I think it is tragic that this video, one of the last times this young woman was seen, has become so sensationalized). (The video was originally shared by the LAPD, I believe, to help in the possible discovery of a missing person). 

If you are a fan of American Horror Story, it's "Hotel" season is based around the Cecil Hotel, which in addition to being the site of Elisa Lam's disappearance and death, once hosted serial killers like Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger. 

As mentioned before, I found the section focused on old mental hospitals interesting. Dickey writes for example about the Danvers State Hospital, which is often named as the birthplace for the pre-frontal lobotomy. A few years ago, I watched a film called Session 9, which used the hospital as a setting -while the story of the film itself wasn't super interesting, the location is definitely very creepy. It is also believed the hospital was the inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft's fictional Arkham Sanitarium. 

Dickey relates his discussion about the hospital to the Kirkbride Plan, a design by architect Thomas Kirkbride first implemented in 1848 at the New Jersey Lunatic Asylum. Dickey writes,

"The Kirkbride asylum came to be the architectural style most thoroughly associated in the United States with the moral treatment. Rather than terrifying, the new asylum would be inviting, surrounded by lawns and gardens that patients could tend themselves. The defining features of the Kirkbride asylum include the central administration building, stately and elegant, with a central tower and elongated wings, forming a shallow V that extends back farther and farther. Part of the beauty of this architectural model was that wings could always be added farther out indefinitely. As a result, they were often massive, growing to hundreds of thousands of square feet."

While the intentions behind these architectural giants might have been good, the asylums ended up presenting something completely different than peace and tranquility. While at first they were private places for the well-off to send their sick family members to, they eventually fell into state hands and began to be filled with increasing numbers of patients. They quickly became understaffed, underfunded, and identifiable as sites of horrible abuse.

Dickey writes:

"The ruins of the Kirkbride asylums -- and their attendant lore -- reveal how uncomfortable we've become with antiquated methods of "healing the sick". Whatever the intentions behind them, lobotomies, straitjackets, and aggressive shock therapy not strike us as barbaric and unnecessary and hover in the back of our collective consciousness. As a culture we still struggle with unresolvable questions that were once wrongly answered in places like these: Who is crazy? Are we crazy? And what can we do to assure ourselves that we aren't."
I mentioned my own ghost hunting experience at the beginning of the review, and I will share that here before I add some photos and quotes to this review. As some of you might know, I studied film and theatre in Edinburgh back in the day. During my second year of studies, I was involved in a short documentary project with a local paranormal investigation group and during one dark November night, they took us for a paranormal investigation to Greyfriars Kirkyard, allegedly a site of a lot of paranormal activity (while I was doing research for this review, I came across a DailyBeast article that called it "The most haunted graveyard in the world"). While Greyfriars Kirkyard is the site from where J.K. Rowling took inspiration for the names of Harry Potter characters and a place to which many body snatching stories locate to, the poltergeist the paranormal group told us about was the one of George MacKenzie, whose mausoleum is prominently located in the graveyard. 

I will not go into who George MacKenzie was or what he did here (you can find plenty of information online),  but I will say a few words about the paranormal investigation itself. Basically, the group had all these gadgets Dickey writes about -- expensive cameras, lights, and so on. They talked to the spirits, trying to call them up, but nothing happened (which wasn't very surprising to me). They talked about their previous paranormal experiences and warned us about the dangers of being possessed and so on. 

As an experience, it was one of a kind. While I did not believe in the paranormal, it was extremely interesting to hear the group talk and see how they interact together. I only spend a few hours with them, but during that time I was able to make conclusions about the group dynamic. Especially one of the guys would have made an extremely interesting character study, mostly because it felt like he was consciously trying to create this cloak of mystery around himself.

If you are interested in the paranormal side of Edinburgh, there are plenty of sites online that focus on those. Here is a list of Top 10 Haunted Places in Edinburgh to start with. There are also a number of organized tours around the haunted places, though those are highly targeted to tourists and probably more for show than actually tales of the paranormal places. 

To conclude this review, I want to bring up one of the concluding arguments Dickey makes in his book. Throughout, his argues that many ghost stories are often modified according to the time they are told, which means that different world events and historical contexts play a role. This means that we take well-known ghost stories, relate them to something important that has happened, and create stories of our own. While the basics might remain, the unconsciously or consciously come up with something new. 

Writing about the prevalence of ghost stories, Dickey states:

"Part of the reason that ghosts stay with us is that they remain a compelling mechanism to explain so much that is unknown in our lives. They enter and reenter our lexicon to explain the explainable, to represent the unpresentable, to give a word to that which we don't understand. "
Whether you are a believer or a nonbeliever like me, I believe Ghostland has something to offer for every single reader out there. For me, it was an interesting study of the stories humans have chosen to believe in, and a look into the history of those stories. In addition, Dickey writes extremely well, which makes Ghostland an entertaining, thoroughly satisfying reading experience.