Halloween Read: “The Ghost Notebooks” by Ben Dolnick

theghostnotebook

Is it ghosts?  Or is it madness?  Or maybe a little of both?

The Ghost Notebooks follows Nick and Hannah, a newly engaged couple at a crisis point in their lives and their relationship.  Their careers are stagnating, and so is their bond.  In hopes that a big change might help them out of their rut, they take jobs as caretakers for a house museum in upstate New York.

From the first, there’s something eerie and secretive about both the town and the house.  The museum was the family home of a 19th century writer and philosopher who, it’s rumored, dabbled in spiritualism.  As the days wear on in this remote and creepy new place, Hannah starts to unravel.  She stops sleeping, hears voices at night, and becomes obsessed with researching the house and the writer.  Nick can only stand by as something tragic happens.

While there’s some occult and spiritualist elements here, this is less a story about a haunting than it is about minds in crisis.  Is Nick a reliable narrator?  Is something nefarious going on?  Or is everything seemingly supernatural simply the result of grief and trauma?

The narrative voice is often wry and funny, and there are a lot of humorous moments balanced against the heavy ones.  If you enjoy just a maybe-sprinkling of ghosts around Halloween, or you’re fascinated by how human minds might create ghouls and goblins, give this one a look!

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Halloween Read: “Slade House” by David Mitchell

slade house

Fans of the trippy, menacing, and occult, take note of Slade House for this Halloween.  It’s a haunted house story with a little something extra.

Down a little side street near a pub, there’s an old house called Slade House.  However, it’s not there all the time, not anymore.   Just once every nine years or so, when the brother and sister who live there invite someone inside.  And then never let them leave.

I don’t want to give away too much of the intricate plot, but I will say that the story spans decades and tells the story of several of the “guests” of Slade House.  It’s reality-bending and very creepy.  And once you know what the stakes are, the constant uneasy and confusing atmosphere becomes threatening.

Slade House is compelling, intricate, and has a great atmosphere of danger and confusion.  If  you like haunted house stories with a twist, give this a look!

 

Not-So-Horrific Halloween Read: “The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn

woman in the window

If you’re the type who likes to curl up with a twisty, suspenseful Hitchcock flick on Halloween, here’s a novel you should try!

Anna Fox lives as a recluse in her New York City home.  She spends most of her time watching Hitchcock movies, drinking, and spying on her neighbors.  Then one night she thinks she witnesses a murder in the house across the street.  From there it’s a downward spiral into trying to decide what’s real and what isn’t, who’s lying, and what Anna actually saw that night.

Anna isn’t very likeable, nor is she very reliable, but she’s compelling to read about.  The Woman in the Window is a page-turner of a thriller, with quite elegant writing and an absorbing narrative voice.  The twists and turns and reveals of the book are a slow build, and there’s a constant air of uncertainty and menace as events unfold.

The references to Hitchcock movies and other thriller/film noir pieces abound, and the book really does have the feel of a black and white psychological suspense film.  Perfect for unsettling you on a Halloween night!

Halloween Read: “The Troop” by Nick Cutter

the troop

Nothing like some good old-fashioned paranoia and body horror come Halloweentime!

The Troop follows a group of scouts on a camping trip on an island.  Scoutmaster Tim takes the troop out every year for a three-day camp in the Canadian wilderness.  And this year, there’s a ravenous, sickly something at the campsite with them–and this something was created to infect as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

The scares in this story come both from the goriness of it (and it’s pretty cringe-inducingly gross!) and from the paranoia and claustrophobia of the island.  The boys in the troop quickly find themselves on their own and open to infection–who’s still safe?  Who’s been infected?  Can they get themselves safely off the island, or are outside forces going to keep them there?  It’s very reminiscent of the classic The Thing, though our monster originates far closer to home.

The Troop is a profoundly creepy and unsettling book, in the very best possible way.   The characters are great, too–you’re really invested in each of these boys (uh, except one, but I won’t spoil it), and it’s both scary and sad to watch them all fight it out and try to survive.

If you’re an old-school Stephen King fan, definitely give Cutter’s work a look!

 

Halloween Read: “The American Resting Place: 400 Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds” by Marilyn Yalom

american resting place

Graveyard iconography is everywhere at Halloween–from decorations to haunted history tours to hanging around in cemeteries on Halloween night to see if there are ghosts.  Particularly  here in New England, where in some places you can’t even take a walk in the woods without tripping over an old boneyard.

115o_waldoboro_from_graveyard_med
Old German Meetinghouse Cemetery, Waldoboro

The American Resting Place examines the history of the graveyard in America over four hundred years, moving chronologically.  She talks about Native American practices as well as those the many different kinds of colonists brought along with them.

October_2014_Portland_Maine_20141025-DSC_5105 By Corey Templeton Eastern Cemetery Fall Sunset small
Eastern Cemetery, Portland (Corey Templeton Photography)

The overall vibe of this book is one of peace, reflection, and restfulness.  The photographs, taken by Yalom’s son Reid, are beautiful–all different sorts of American graveyards are represented.

mount hope
Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor

Striking photographs, fascinating history, and the feeling of taking a nice (if slightly macabre) walk–if you can’t make it to a local cemetery tour this Halloween, this book is the next best thing!

ancient cemetery
Ancient Cemetery, Wiscasset

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.