top of page
  • L E Fitzpatrick

Review: Chilling Winter Reading

A book on a snow

October last year I was working at the Aberaeron Literary Festival and taking every available opportunity to browse for Christmas presents. This short story collection called to me throughout the festival, partly due to the inclusion of Natasha Pulley—after having finished The Half Life of Valery K in the summer, I find myself impatiently awaiting her next novel—but also due to a love of M.R. James and the idea of gathering the family around a Christmas fire to scare them witless. I bought this book as a gift, knowing that it would be shared with me sometime after the festivities and was very pleased it snowed (a rarity for my hometown) the week I read it!


The Winter Spirits is a collection of twelve short stories from twelve incredible authors. Themes move from unsettling ghost stories, weird tales and some horror, all exceptionally written and thoroughly absorbing. Featuring authors like Natasha Pulley, Bridget Collins and Laura Purcell, this book is seamlessly put together as though each story could take place in the same world, despite some being decades and even oceans apart.


“If she did not look so much like prey, perhaps she could have been luckier.” – Host, Kiran Millwood Hargrave


The first story Host by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a perfect tone-setting tale with child abduction and the spirit world, set in Victorian London and rich with spooky imagery. Whereas this tale has the reading smiling at the conclusion, other stories have more tragic ends. This is followed by Inferno, by Laura Shepherd-Robinson which tells the tale of a doomed man as he confronts his misogynistic sins.


The Old Play by Michael Hurley is the latest set historical story, featuring an aging actor who is still haunted by wartime trauma performing as a beggar in a too-real play with a brutal ending. A Double Thread by Imogen Hermes Gowar sees a rich privileged woman get her comeuppance.


As expected, Natasha Pulley’s The Salt Miracles steals the show with her eery story set on a remote island with an even older God (?). Told in two parts, this story ends with a cliffhanger and features a wealth of loveable characters who meet beautifully tragic ends.


Banished by Elizabeth Macneal is retelling of a true story embellished with ghosts. Gargoyle by Bridget Collins is a whimsical story very much in the style of M.R. James. The mood shifts in Master of the House by Stuart Turton—a gothic horror with a tragic ending.


I was a big fan of Susan Stokes-Chapman’s Widow’s Walk, a gory revenge story. And finally, Carol of the Bells and Chains by Laura Purcell finishes the collection with a Krampus story that is much more rooted in old frightening fairytales.


This is a collection that readers will want to come back to again and again and will be a firm favourite on my Christmas reading list for years to come. The perfect gift for fans of ghost stories, weird fiction or historical fiction.


Despite not being so fond of short stories generally, I devoured this bountiful collection and have discovered several new authors who will be added to my reading list this year. Five stars.


I bought this book from my local book festival as a gift for a friend (a gift I knew she’d share with me!).

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page