Halloween Read: Two by Susan Hill

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The Man in the Picture and The Small Hand today on a ghost story double feature!

Both of these tales are little gems of revenge from beyond the grave.  In The Man in the Picture, a mysterious painting of a Venetian scene becomes a tool for malice.  And in The Small Hand, a ghost reaches out of the past and quite literally touches someone.

Hill has a very elegant but spare style that suits these stories well.  Both employ lots of wonderful tension-building and atmosphere, and a fantastic sense of the strange and foreboding.  They’re slim stories, and Hill manages to pack a lot into a small frame in each one.

There’s a sort of dusty old feel to these, as if you’ve uncovered a box in an attic with a lot of forgotten, oddball items inside.  And then those items somehow unleash the supernatural on you.

Pick these stories up this October if you like barely-there scares and old-fashioned strange tales.  They’re straightforward ghost stories with some elegant layering, perfect for an afternoon during the witching season.

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Halloween Read: “This House is Haunted” by John Boyne

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house is haunted

A lovely, old-style ghost story, with echoes of Dickens and James.  Perfect if you’re in the mood for a Halloween read with a classic feel.  It’s old-fashioned and creepy, relying on a sense of foreboding to up the scares.

Following the death of her father, Eliza Caine takes a governess position at Gaudlin Hall in Norfolk.  Right away, the strangeness begins–there are no adults anywhere at the Hall, and the children have run through several governesses.  Something is clearly very wrong.  The more Eliza learns about the history of the house and its family, the more dangerous the situation becomes.  Eliza must figure out how to stop whatever force is in the Hall before she and the children become victims.

This story is very rooted in its time and place (London and Norfolk in 1867), so you might enjoy it as an historical novel as well.  The atmosphere is rich, and it’s poignant and melancholy on top of being creepy–as the best ghost stories are.

Marie’s Favorite Scary Books, Part IV: Scary Book Massacre

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Horror Month 2015 brings us yet another installment of Marie’s Favorite Scary Books!  It’s an official franchise now!  Maybe someday Marie’s Favorite Scary Books, Part IV: Scary Book Massacre will be a name spoken in the same breath as Halloween 4: The Return of Michael MyersFriday the 13th: The Final ChapterAmityville 4: The Evil Escapes, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, and Bride of Chucky.

One can hope.

Here are my favorite scary reads from the past year!

Marie’s Favorite Scary  Books Part IV: Scary Book Massacre

small shadowsThe House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill
Antiques valuer Catherine is sent to the Red House to catalog the collection of World War I veteran M.H. Mason, a taxidermist known for his dioramas of preserved rats enacting battle scenes from the Great War. Soon she finds there’s a darkness still lurking in the house, a mysterious secret that Catherine is drawn into and unable to avoid uncovering.  A stifling and dark atmosphere, a pervasive sense of dread, and horrifying images that leap from the page make this a book to read strictly in the daytime.  You can find the blog post about it here.

pleasure and a callingA Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan
A real estate agent keeps the keys to every house he’s ever sold, and makes himself a frequent visitor in the now-occupied homes.  Sometimes when the residents are there, never realizing they have company.  It’s a creepy set-up with an unbalanced narrator, an understated horror offering.

head full of ghostsA Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
When Merry was a little girl, her older sister was possessed by a demon–and her cash-strapped family made a reality-TV show about it.  In the present, Merry is the only surviving member of her family, and she’s agreed to let an author write a book about her.  Tons of references to the horror genre (especially Shirley Jackson!), a wonderful narrator, and truly scary scenes, this is one of the most compelling scary books I read in 2015.

Trigger WarningTrigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
These pieces have been collected under the umbrella of being unsettling (hence the title).  Each tale wrongfoots you in a different sort of way. There’s darkness, there’s humor, there’s deep understanding and wisdom.   His characters feel timeless.  There’s an ease to his style, and he can work in so many mediums and different styles that it’s amazing all this work comes from one imagination.  For a lighter not-so-horrific read this Halloween, give this collection a try.  You can read more here.

night sister

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon
Like The Winter People, McMahon’s newest novel has full-on supernatural elements.  It’s a monster story, but also a story about sisters, friendship, and growing up.

the lottery

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
I’ve recently rekindled my relationship with Shirley Jackson, and it’s been wonderful to enjoy all over again how creepy and menacing and atmospheric some of her pieces are.  This collection is classic and contains some of my favorite dark pieces.

Have a horrific time with these!

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “Starter House” by Sonja Condit

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starterhouseThis is a Saturday Afternoon Movie in prose form.   That’s not a criticism, merely the best way I can think to describe the general vibe of this novel.

It’s got a nice even pace, some creepy imagery, a couple laughs, and a few scenes to tug the heartstrings.  The characters are flawed but not too terribly complex.  There’s also enough suspense and mystery to keep you going through to the end, which boasts a reveal that’s a bit out of the ordinary.  It’s not absorbing, but it is compelling.  The structure is cinematic, going from scene to scene and character to character in a nice linear way.

That’s what I mean by a Saturday Afternoon Movie feel.  I was completely absorbed for a few hours, got my entertainment and my suitable ending, and then it was time to go do something else.  Sometimes, that’s just what you need. Continue reading

Marie’s Reading: “The Harrowing” by Alexandra Sokoloff

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Harrowing2The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff.  A horror tale set on a college campus, about five students brought together over Thanksgiving break.  The only thing they all have in common is that they all have dark pasts.  Together, though, they find they have a lot of power.  It could all be suggestion, it could all be a prank…or there could be dark forces at work.

Here’s the thing about genre conventions: they are excellent shorthand, clueing the reader in to what will follow. When a man and woman bicker constantly at the outset of a romance, they will fall in love.  When a pistol appears in the first act, it will be fired by the end of the third.  

When five students find a Ouija board over a holiday weekend in a college dormitory, bad things will go down.

Never trust board games.  In any media.

Never trust a Ouija board. In any medium. (ha!)

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Marie’s Reading Her Halloween Leftovers

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Oh, the candy is loooong gone, and so’s the Pumpkinhead.  Yet the horror novels remain.  I got too ambitious with my Halloween reads this year, which is why I’m still working through my leftovers a week after Thanksgiving.

Fitting, now that I consider it.  After all, the week after Thanksgiving is the traditional time to finish off leftovers, right?

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Halloween Read: “Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill

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I was skeptical about trying this one, I admit.  I mean, a guy who buys a haunted suit online, which arrives in a black heart-shaped box?  Then the ghost (predictably) haunts him?  Troubled pasts, Goth girlfriends, and death-metal oh my?

I’m glad I picked it up.  Once I was into it, I was INTO IT.  And having nightmares.

So it’s a perfect Halloween Read!

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