Marie’s Favorite Scary Books, Part VIII: Haunted with Pride

Welcome to the eighth installment of Marie’s Favorite Scary Books: “Haunted with Pride.”  Boy, this book title generator never disappoints! (runners up: “Ghosts Without a Home” had a melancholy touch I liked, and “The Colleague Without Eyes” had a B-movie sort of appeal.)

2019 was the year of unsettling stories best suited to foggy, rainy autumn nights in New England.  Of course you can enjoy them any time, but the mood of every one of this year’s picks conveys dark stormy nights.  Ghosts real and imagined are the big players here.

Enjoy!  And you can find parts 1-7 here!

Marie’s Favorite Scary Books, Part VIII: Haunted with Pride

small spacesSmall Spaces by Katherine Arden

invitedThe Invited by Jennifer McMahon

lost historyThe Lost History of Dreams by Kris Waldherr

sisterThe Sister by Poppy Adams

81Eb2buY9sLGrowing Things and Other Stories by Paul Tremblay

harrow countyHarrow County by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook

 

Halloween Read: “The Lost History of Dreams” by Kris Waldherr

lost historyDeliciously Victorian Gothic, this story of ghosts, love, and loss is the perfect read for a dreary autumn night.

Robert Highstead, a grieving widower, earns his living as a post-mortem photographer in 1850’s England.  When his cousin, famed poet Hugh de Bonne, passes away, it falls to Robert to deliver his remains to a chapel in Shropshire and to photograph the corpse.

However, Hugh’s niece will not allow Robert to take the body to the chapel until she tells him the story of Hugh and his wife, Ada.  Reluctantly Robert agrees, and is treated to a story that blurs the lines between past and present as well as life and death.  As the story unfolds, secrets are uncovered about Robert’s late wife and about his mysterious hostess.

The atmosphere of this ghost story is incredible–dark and dreary and mysterious.  Waldherr’s attention to historical detail is great, too.  If you like your ghost stories firmly planted in emotional reality, you might give this one a look!

 

 

Not-so-Horrific Halloween Read: “The Sister” by Poppy Adams

sisterGinny lives alone in her crumbling family home in Dorset.  She likes it that way.  Her sister Vivien has just returned after an absence of nearly fifty years.  Not only does Vivi throw off the careful routine, she also dredges up a past best left buried.  Ginny goes back and forth between the past and the present, trying to explain how she reached this point in her life.

There are hints all through the book that Ginny isn’t quite right.  You don’t learn how off she really is until far into the story, and by then it’s too late.

This is one of those slow-burn stories, where you’re  sure from the outset that Ginny isn’t quite right, but you don’t know how wrong she really is until the end.  And by the end, you have no idea how much of what you just read actually happened.

The Sister is creepy and sad, and you’re left both wondering and disturbed at the end.  Check it out for an understated scare this Halloween!

Halloween Read: “The October Country” by Ray Bradbury

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…that country where it is always turning late in the year.  That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay.  That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faded away from the sun.  That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts.  Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…

A fine collection of deeply creepy tales for those frosty, vaguely melancholy October nights.

There’s a tortured grim reaper in The Scythe, a mysterious (perhaps monstrous?) boarder in The Man Upstairs, a stubborn and funny woman who refuses to die in There Was an Old Woman, an unhappily married couple who take a grisly tour in The Next in Line, and a dog who’s way too loyal in The Emissary.  There are several other stories in this collection as well, but those are the ones that struck me the most.

Bradbury had a talent for finding the chilling in everyday experience, much like Shirley Jackson did.  Grotesqueries abound in these tales, as does paranoia and the bizarre.  These stories are more toward the dark fantasy end of the spectrum, but a few edge into pure Horror.  Bradbury excelled at the short story, a form which is a great vehicle for Horror–no time or words are wasted, images are sharp, and the atmosphere has to be intense.

If you’re after some classic reading this Halloween, give this collection a look!

Halloween Read: “Harrow County” by Cullen Bunn, art by Tyler Crook

If you’re a fan of intensely creepy fairy tales with a large dose of Southern Gothic, are you in luck this Halloween!

harrow county

Harrow County is full of haints.  Not too many years ago a powerful witch made the county her home, and filled it with creatures of her own making.  When the townsfolk got scared, they tried to destroy her.  But the witch left behind a legacy of monsters, ghosts, and others of her children.

Emmy lives on a remote farm with her pa, and as she nears adulthood she realizes that she has powers.  Powers that echo those of the witch. She has to decide how to use them, and how to go about her life in the county she calls home.

Harrow County is a beautiful piece of horror writing.  There’s a sense of timelessness to it, plenty of depth of feeling and well-drawn characters.  Emmy comes across as a complex human being with real depth, and her journey is central to the narrative.

Crook’s watercolor artwork is gorgeous and haunting, perfectly suited to the story.  The notes at the end of each collection about the creative background to the comic are a fascinating read.

I agree completely with the cover blurb on the image above: Harrow County is indeed charming and disturbing in equal measure, in the best possible way.  Give it a look this Halloween!

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.

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!

us

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.

Hereditary

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!