Halloween Read: “Husk” by Dave Zeltserman

huskThe Husk clan in the remote woods of New Hampshire has a taste for human flesh.  One day, while out to find victims, Charlie Husk meets and falls in love with a girl named Jill.  His decision to leave his clan and their rituals will be more dangerous and difficult than he ever imagined.

Years ago I read Zeltserman’s The Caretaker of Lorne Field and absolutely loved it.  There’s such great subtlety in his horror writing, and an ever-present unease that’s also on display in this book.

Odd to say, but there’s a lot of romance in this novel.  It’s really a love story with some horror elements.  I loved this mix, which you usually find more in ghost stories.  The story has so much more emotional heft due to the time spent with Charlie and Jill, and how desperate Charlie is to overcome his upbringing in order to spend his life with Jill.

Of course the family catches up to him eventually.  And Charlie has hard decisions to make.  There’s a kicker of an open ending, too.

Creepy, darkly funny (loved the author cameo!), and sometimes sweet, this is a Halloween read that might appeal to Horror and non-Horror fans alike.

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Halloween Watch: “Us”

A family on vacation in Santa Cruz is terrorized by their doppelgangers.  And that’s all I’m going to tell you!

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I accidentally spoiled this movie for myself by reading too much about it and ignoring a clearly-marked Spoiler Alert.  However this did not ruin the film, and I think I might have guessed the twist anyway.  Still, I think it’s always better to see a movie cold, which is really hard to do in the Internet Age.

While it is unsettling and is definitely gory, I’m not sure I would call this a horror movie.  The tone reminds me more of Shaun of the Dead.  It’s creepy, but it’s funny.  There’s a great scene, for instance, where the Wilsons are sitting around planning their next move, covered in gore, and the shot pulls out a bit to reveal that they have actually been casually sitting around a coffee table that a corpse crashed through.  Or arguing over who has the highest kill count and should thus be allowed to drive.

Peele makes a beautiful movie.  The colors, the shots, the pacing, it’s all fabulous to look at.  And the actors turn in phenomenal performances, especially Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide/Red.  And I always love a movie that can be read in a lot of different ways, and Us is open to a lot of interpretations.

Us is a joy to watch.  An unsettling, funny-scary joy.  Add it to this year’s Halloween movie marathon!

One of the central themes in Us is that we can do a good job collectively of ignoring the ramifications of privilege. I think it’s the idea that what we feel like we deserve comes, you know, at the expense of someone else’s freedom or joy. You know, the biggest disservice we can do as a faction with a collective privilege like the United States is to presume that we deserve it, and that it isn’t luck that has us born where we’re born. For us to have our privilege, someone suffers. That’s where the Tethered connection, I think, resonates the most, is that those who suffer and those who prosper are two sides of the same coin. You can never forget that. We need to fight for the less fortunate.

 

Halloween Read: “Growing Things and Other Stories” by Paul Tremblay

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A collection of deliciously unsettling tales from the author of A Head Full of Ghosts and Cabin at the End of the World, Growing Things has some sci-fi, some monsters, some noir, and a ton of disturbing atmosphere.

Many of these stories have open or uncertain endings, to the point where there were a couple I’m not entirely sure that I grasped (“_____” and “The Teacher” in particular).  Tremblay’s notes about each story at the end of the book are fun, and give you the sense that he really enjoys taking the everyday to creepy new places.  And it works!

That’s what Tremblay does best, actually, in a very Shirley Jackson-esque way–he’s got the ability to find the grotesque and the terrifying in the mundane, to put a twist on the oh-so-ordinary.  The atmosphere he creates is incredible, always with a sense of unease and creepiness.

Give this collection a look this Halloween!

 

Halloween Watch: “Hereditary”

Why oh why don’t I ever listen to that little voice inside that tells me that a movie will be too scary for me?

Well, it is fun to be scared.  Until you’re trying to fall asleep and remain convinced that Toni Collette is on your ceiling.

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The plot: after Ellen, the family matriarch, passes away, her daughter Annie uncovers terrifying secrets about her ancestry.

And that’s all I’m going to tell you.  Go into this movie cold for the best effect.

Collette does a phenomenal job in this movie.  She’s so raw and real, her grief and her rage and her pain are so unsettling and true.  Everyone does a phenomenal job in this movie, actually, playing the dysfunctional Graham family in their grief.

My only quibble with this gorgeously made, tremendously acted, and truly scary movie is the ending.  Though I suppose given the ending, I by implication quibble with the whole story.  I don’t want to spoil the movie, so I’ll just say that I could have written this New York Times piece about it.

If you’re after a horror movie that relies on raw human emotion and imagery instead of jump scares and blood (though there is some actually a lot of blood), give Hereditary a watch!

Halloween Read: “Small Spaces” by Katherine Arden

small spacesNominated for this year’s Maine Student Book Award, Small Spaces is a spooky, atmospheric, and often funny story of coming to terms with grief, about friendship, and about bravery.

It’s October in Vermont, and Ollie’s sixth-grade class is taking a field trip to a local farm.  The farm has a dark history, though–one of strange disappearances.  It’s all in a book called Small Spaces, in which a woman named Beth Webster tells the story of a bargain her husband made with a mysterious figure called the Smiling Man.

And when the school bus breaks down and a heavy mist settles in, it looks like Ollie and her classmates might be the next to disappear.  Only Ollie, armed with the knowledge from Small Spaces, avoids capture along with two of her classmates.  It’s up to her, using her wits and bravery, to find a safe way through the mist and save the rest of the kids.

Arden has an incredibly evocative writing style–her descriptions and atmosphere are wonderful, and perfect for this kind of story.  The story was in my mind for days after reading it.  It’s creepy and fun and has a really timeless feel about it–it’s a tough one to put down!

If you liked the show Over the Garden Wall, and/or enjoy books like The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier, The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley, and Doll Bones by Holly Black, give this a try!  Older readers might also try The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon.

Halloween Read: “Haunted: On Ghosts, Witches, Vampires, Zombies, and Other Monsters of the Natural and Supernatural Worlds” by Leo Braudy

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I bet lots of us have read or watched something billed as Classic Horror, and then found ourselves thinking:

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Maybe they weren’t easier to scare, but what scared them was different.  As societies change and grow, our fears do the same.  The forms those fears take on, and the monsters they generate, are most often very particular to a time and place.

Haunted is an examination of fear.  Where do our monsters come from?  Why are we so fascinated by them?  What role do they play in our emotional lives?

Braudy explores all of these questions and more in an engaging and thought-provoking way.  And he goes way, way back into the background of ghosts, witches, and monsters–he talks a lot about the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, for instance, and their legacies in society and in the spiritual and emotional lives of individuals.  Another period that comes up time after time is the Romantic Era and the Industrial Revolution.  There’s a great historical depth to Braudy’s arguments about how and when different fears manifested themselves in society.

I enjoyed his more particular arguments the most, though, when he gets into the specifics of King Kong (the monster from nature), Frankenstein (the created monster), Jekyll and Hyde (the monster from within), and Dracula (the monster from the past).  The section about how cinema changed the game for horror is fun, too.  All of the history and background are necessary groundwork for the specifics, of course, but I found Braudy’s take on these monsters illuminating.

For a peek behind the curtain at human fears, give this book a try this Halloween!

 

 

 

Horror Month is Here!!

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Haaaaaaappy October, fellow Halloweenies!  For the eighth year running we’re devoting the Readers’ Corner to all things haunted, creepy, scary, and otherwise unsettling in the lead-up to Halloween.

Check back all October for scary reading recommendations, Marie’s favorite scary books from the past year, and even a few movie suggestions.

And please follow that link in the image above to weird old Halloween greeting cards.  Please do, it’ll make your Halloween season.

Halloweentime begins now.

 

September Staff Picks

New Staff Picks

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson
I love Jackson’s books, and am always so excited to pick up her newest!  In this multi-layered story of secrets and blackmail, Amy is a suburban mom with a dark secret.  One night a stranger shows up at her book club, intent on blowing up Amy’s happy life.  Jackson has such a great talent for character voices and emotional reality, it’s always such a treat to read her stuff.
–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “Lanny” by Max Porter

LannyA mythical creature, Dead Papa Toothwort, awakens in an English village, and is looking for a specific boy in town.  A boy named Lanny.

Lanny is a special kind of kid, one his parents don’t really understand.  He’s artistic and in his own head a lot, and is altogether what you might call “an old soul.”  Dead Papa Toothwort is drawn to his energy.  When Lanny disappears, it might or might not be Toothwort’s doing.

Dead Papa Toothwort’s sections are my favorites of the novel (Lanny’s mother and father and a local artist are the other narrators).  He’s a part of the land, so he can be anything and anywhere–in a bird, in a tree, tiny and sitting on a post, just under the asphalt of the road, etc.  In one section, he goes to the village hall to look at the pictures of him that local children have drawn, as they’ve done for centuries.  Dead Papa Toothwort is disgusted and disappointed that he’s depicted in this age like a green horror movie killer–he preferred it when he was drawn as a creature made entirely of ivy.

That sense of disconnect from the land, history, and one another runs through this story.  Stylistically impressive and very atmospheric, haunting and mysterious. Porter’s style is incredibly elegant.  The sense of otherworldliness is strong, particularly in the final third of the book, which is a hallucinatory sort of play that reveals exactly what became of Lanny.

If you liked The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro or The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, give this one a look!

–Marie