Award-winning author Matthew Woodruff’s panache for writing shines in his second collection of short stories with the wildly imagined worlds, powerfully drawn realistic characters, and an unsettling portrayal of various happenings in his protagonists’ lives.

Merging the profound emotions of joy, fear, loss, love, foreboding, and incomprehension, Woodruff’s twelve stories are set around particular holidays of the year. “The Alban Eiler” is a story of two women and their adolescent daughters, who despite being born thousands of years apart, share the same fate on Easter. Woodruff’s enlivening imagination runs wild in “My After Life,” a lighthearted story of a person whose life was always mundane, but the afterlife was nothing like he expected. In “Amy’s Valentine,” the protagonist is struggling to move forward after her daughter’s death when a handsome stranger arrives at her door on valentine’s day and reunites her with her daughter. The protagonist’s ‘monumental sorrow’ is the story’s dominant tone, but it changes to ‘chillingly scary’ suddenly with a single scene in the finale. In “The Shadow People,” the protagonist arrives in an isolated Northern Canadian town to attend a wedding unaware of a strange twist of fate awaiting her. “Boxed in by Fate,” is a heartening tale that takes place in a strange universe where life unfolds one fateful box at a time, and a couple receives a pleasant surprise. In “The Color of the Soul,” a police sergeant with the unusual ability of seeing a person’s soul gets a chance to see what his own soul looks like on a Halloween night. “A Christmas Tale,” is an unsettling story in which the protagonist with a strange sense of foreboding when destiny was about to take tragic turn in her life realizes this year’s Christmas season was no different.

Some stories are funny with lighter moments (“Lenny the Djinn”), but the major chunk is dark and chillingly unsettling (The Dark New Year, Just Dessert). Woodruff’s best skill is examining the depth of the fear in the human mind, and that’s what stays at the heart of the book’s theme. The powerful illustrations perfectly match the collection’s ominous mood, making an immediate impact on readers’ minds. This haunting collection draws on the deepest emotions of love, grief, fear, foreboding, and hope and will stay at readers’ minds long after they finish the book. This is a marvelous collection from a very talented writer.