Halloween Read: “20th Century Ghosts” by Joe Hill

ghosts

A troubled teen awakes and finds himself transformed into a giant insect.  An inflatable boy deals with schoolyard bullies.  A girl haunts the movie theater where she died.  A boy is locked in a cellar with a phone that connects to the afterlife.

The stories in 20th Century Ghosts are a fantastic blend of horror, weird fiction, and dark fantasy.  Several of them have references to classic works, like Dracula and The Metamorphosis (and those are just the most clear-cut ones).   They’re all very subtle and strange, and have a range of tone and mood.  Hill’s style, as always, is incredibly absorbing and completely readable–he puts you right there in the tale he’s telling, and he can create a world of amazing detail in just a few pages.

This is a fantastic collection for readers who enjoy their Halloween reads more on the weird fiction end of the Horror spectrum.  If you’ve enjoyed Hill’s novels, give these stories a look!

 

 

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Halloween Read: “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” by Colin Dickey

ghostland

American history and haunted places are two of my favorite things!  What a treat to find them both together in one book.

Dickey has this to say in his introduction:

If you want to understand a place, ignore the boastful monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses…Tune out the patriotic speeches and sanctioned narratives, and listen instead for the bumps in the night.

That is so true!  The haunted places in a town or city are where you find the dirty secrets, the underbelly, the stuff nobody wants you to know about.  Stories of ghosts are usually stories of some kind of trauma or betrayal or tragedy–and these stories also give these tragedies some meaning after the fact.  There can be justice or understanding where there wasn’t any in life.  A community can make sense of a terrible occurrence through weaving tales of hauntings.

Ghostland is a tour of haunted places which never delves into whether ghosts are real or not.  The fact that ghost stories endure is real enough, and that is what matters to Dickey.  The focus is on what ghosts do for the living, what purposes they serve to individuals, communities, and cultures.

The tour travels all across the United States, from houses to hotels to restaurants to prisons to graveyards to whole towns.   Dickey is a wonderful tour guide.  He’s informed and passionate and a great storyteller.  The atmosphere he creates makes you feel that you’re traveling along with him.

The book also addresses the fact that we live in a changed world.  What do the ghosts of the digital age look like, of the information age?  He mentions how digital lives on social media continue after death, and how that’s a kind of haunting.  But in the end, we’ll always need ghosts, because we’ll always need a way to deal with death and mortality.  The guises and trappings might change, but ghosts and haunted places will always be with us in one way or another, and they’ll always adapt to meet our needs.

Only four days to go until the big day!  Plenty of time for some ghostly armchair travel to get you in the mood.

 

Haunted Houses

Hey, fellow Halloweenies, look what’s up out on the opposite coast:

haunted house

Intriguing!  Tell me more, Los Angeles Times:

After signing a waiver and getting locked inside the 17th Door haunted experience, you’ll need to remember three things: Each of the 17 rooms is more intense than the last, the monsters will touch you and the safe word is “mercy.”

And what lies behind the 17th Door? Your greatest fears – and one of the most anticipated haunted experiences of the Halloween season in Southern California.

Southern Californians Robbie and Heather Luther are the masterminds behind The 17th Door.  Neither have any horror background, but they had a dream of creating an immersive haunted house experience after visits to several haunted mazes.  Their intent, as quoted in the LA Times, is to disturb, terrify, and occasionally offend visitors.  Judging by the articles I’ve read, they’re succeeding.

The set-up, again from the Times:

Set at a medical college, the 17th Door’s well-developed backstory follows a troubled student named Paula who battles a host of demons ranging from drug abuse and an eating disorder to bullying and suicide. Paula’s personal demons show up as physical manifestations in the college’s classrooms, dormitories, cafeteria, library and locker room. Sometimes Paula is in the room with you and other times you view the scene from Paula’s point of view.

The 30-minute experience unfolds in 17 locked rooms that rival movie sets for their intense attention to detail. Visitors will be pulsed through in small groups of approximately eight people and spend about 90 seconds in each room. And there’s a good chance you will get wet – either from a putrid toilet or by a monster’s tongue.

Ew.  Too spooky for me.  I’d rather sit at home and read haunted house stories.  I like my thrills and chills at a safe remove and without any tongues.  If you feel the same way, here’s a post from a couple Halloweens ago which talks about ghosts and haunted house stories. You could also check out my posts about The Unseen by Alexandra SokoloffRooms by Lauren Oliver, and The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill.  I’ve also just finished a wonderful haunted house story by Sarah Langan, called Audrey’s Door.  I hope to have a post up about it this week!

The rest of you braver souls can have a look at the website for The 17th Door.  Find it here.  You don’t need to sign anything, but brace yourself for creepy imagery.

–Marie

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

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 Two Haunted House Stories

…that aren’t.  Not really.

No spookiness or bumps in the night or bleak atmosphere or threat from beyond the grave.  These books are about spirits instead of ghosts, if I can make that distinction.  The spirits of both the living and the dead, and how they intersect, and how thin the boundary between the quick and the dead really is.

RoomsRooms by Lauren Oliver is about secrets and loss, death and change.  Heavy themes, but the book itself manages not to be.  At its heart it’s a story about family and connection.  After Richard Walker dies, his estranged family returns to their house.  Already in residence, though, are Alice and Sandra–two women who died in the house and are still there, spirits trapped within its walls.  Eventually the two worlds collide, but not in the way you might think.

This novel is compelling and intricately plotted with a pace that intensifies as you go along, but the real strength of this story is the cast of characters.  Their voices are memorable and finely tuned, and they never fail to come across as fully human.  They all have their secrets which bind them, and they all are desperate to free themselves, whether they’re living or dead.  There are some genuinely moving moments, and a sort of understated poignancy to the proceedings of this story.  If you like your ghost stories bittersweet and just as much about living as dying, give this one a try.

 

hundred year houseThe Hundred Year House by Rebecca Makkai is another tale of secrets, and of unlikely ghosts.  Spanning a century in a stately home that once housed an artists’ colony, the narrative moves backward from 1999 to 1900, all the while peeling back more layers of the story and letting secrets come to light.

The construction of this novel is wonderful and fresh (I’ve grown so used to bouncing back and forth in a timeline, it’s fun to see a backward one!), and I love Makkai’s quirky sort of tone, one-liners, and the way she presents imperfect relationships just as much here as I did in The Borrower.  This would be a sort of “out-of-left-field” suggestion for readers who like Kate Morton–you might enjoy Makkai’s take on unraveling secrets and exploring slightly…well, odd relationships.

–Marie

“Locke and Key” by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez

Joehilllockekey

Joe Hill is becoming my regular Halloween Countdown thing.

This year I’m reading Horns (which I’ll talk about later), and in the meantime I’ve been devouring the comic series Locke and Key.  It’s six volumes of FANTASTIC.  The plot is layered, the characters are fun, there’s terror and gore with sweetness to temper it.  Most of all, it’s a story about a grieving family, and how they work to repair their lives and relationships with each other.

When the story opens, we learn that siblings Ty, Kinsey, and Bode Locke have lost their father in a violent way, at the hands of a former student.  Their mother was also attacked, but survived.  The grieving family moves to Massachusetts to live in the Locke family home.  Soon enough, ghosts come to the surface along with memories and old grudges.

And keys.

Keys

The Locke house is home to several magical keys, forged during the days of the American Revolution.  Bode, the youngest of the kids, begins to find them and experiment with their powers.  We come to find out that someone (or something) wants those keys and will stop at nothing to get them, and it’s up to the Locke children to save the day.  If they can.

I confess, I’m only halfway through.  I’m on volume three of a six-volume run.  As I said, I’m devouring them.  I love the story and the characters, and I always like plots where secrets are uncovered bit by bit with little clues along the way.  And Rodriquez’s art is amazing, depicting the fantastic and the mundane with equal skill and deftness.  I can’t wait to see how the story comes together.

Horror, for me, is largely a visual genre.  I’m scared more by images than I am by text (I think my imagination won’t let me go some places that horror novels describe, so I need an artist or director to go there for me), so graphic novels are a surefire bet when I’m after a Halloween fright.

If you like Joe Hill’s other work, definitely give this a try!

joe-hill-locke-and-key

This was too good not to share. You’re welcome.

ETA:  I finished the series.  I cried at the end.  Thanks, Messrs. Hill and Rodriguez, it was a great ride.

Marie’s Favorite Scary Books, Part III: The Revenge of the Scary Book

The first one’s usually pretty okay.  Perhaps some concepts or ideas you haven’t encountered before.  Then there’s a sequel, and most people are in one of two camps: “Yay, they’re making another one!” or “Ugh, they’re making another one.” By the time the third one rolls around you know what to expect.  Usually this is the one that continues all the motifs, maybe wraps some things up, but mostly it’s what you’ve seen before.

My third scary books list is no different.   The same things that freaked me out years ago freak me out now.  It’s just that I find them in different books every year.

So here you go, the third installment of my favorite scary books!  I’ve also got print copies of my favorite scary books lists on my Horror Display at the library.

Marie’s Favorite Scary Books, Part III: The Revenge of the Scary Book

girl with all the giftsThe Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
A creative, gory, and enjoyable zombie read.  I talked about it on the blog here.

winter peopleThe Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
A ghost story reminiscent of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, but with a chilling magic all its own.  Click here to read more.

severed03_coverSevered by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft, art by Attila Futaki
Human horror at its finest.  A tale of a monster on America’s highways, searching for victims.  The artwork is brutal but gorgeous, striking a distinctive and effective balance.  This is the blog post about it.

ScowlerScowler by Daniel Kraus
A tale of abuse and survival, and the monsters that lurk inside all of us.  Thinking about it gives me a bad taste in my mouth.  You’ll understand when you read it and get to the end.  This one set me so sideways I never wrote a post, so here’s the Goodreads page.

horrorstorHorrorstör by Grady Hendrix
Let’s end on a relatively peppy note!  Read my blog post about this inventive, scary, and clever new title here.

I’m not going to say “The End,” because I want to leave the door open for a fourth installment in October 2015.  Maybe I’ll set it in outer space.   Or somehow go back in time and do a prequel list.

During Horror Time, the possibilities are limitless.