Month: October 2016

Halloween Reads 2013 Redux

The third installment in my repost of my previous years’ Halloween Reads! Hope you enjoy this tidbit from the vault…

At the beginning of October, I was stumped for Halloween reading. Then I realized I had both of Will Alexander’s books, and they were rather breath-taking. Then I picked up a copy of The Graveyard Book that I had bought a couple of months ago, and was pulled right in. And then another book I was waiting for came in at the library, and I found a copy of The Phantom of the Opera in the spare room.

All that to say, there’s plenty to be had for spooky reading, folks. I’ve previously done up lists that included children’s books and a classic. I came up with a classic, but no children’ s book this year – if only because I found too many recent YA and adult titles that I wanted to read.

phantomoftheoperaThe Classic
Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
I saw the stage show here years ago, and of course the music is haunting. But I’d never read the book. I’m glad I did. While yes, this is a dated novel, and yes, it is undeniably a romance underneath it all, it is still spell-binding and suspenseful. Even having seen the stage show, I couldn’t remember all the plot elements that give this story its power. It has all the trappings of a good story: a glamorous setting at the Paris Opera (plus, it’s Paris!), and the mysterious below-decks world under the Opera, plus opera singers, counts and exotic foreign characters. And a mysterious dark man.

It’s all delivered in that typical turn-of the century style, addressing the reader directly (as is done in Dracula and Frankenstein). Which can detract from the modern enjoyment of the story. But it’s a classic story, and the dramatic style of the narrator can be overlooked, or might even add to it for you.

In addition, there’s that peculiar gaslight element, which is described so well – a hundred black butterflies flying just out of the corner of your eye. I think that the gaslight era was what gave us some of these great horror stories. It was certainly a factor in Dracula. Because the world looked different by gaslight. There were more shadows, more unknown things. Even the state of the Phantom is part of that. What really is his condition? Why must he wear the mask? How did he get that way? He is in the shadows, he is only half revealed ever – as anyone with any deformity was in those times. That is another element of the story that would have scared people back then – without so much of an understanding or a tolerance for the Other as perhaps we have today.

But it is still a good ghost story. (Note: if you have not read this original, you may want to pick it up and give it a go before you dive into the retelling by A.G. Howard, Roseblood!)

Two by William Alexander

Goblin Secrets (Zombay #1) and Ghoulish Song (Zombay #2)
Goblin Secrets, Alexander’s first novel, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. That’s a tough act to follow. But in Ghoulish Song, he has done this delicious thing. He has used some of the same characters, and shown the scene from a different perspective, and then enlarged it so that we are seeing the whole day from someone else’s point of view. This serves to remind us that the world belongs to everyone, and our bit is only a small part of it.

In Goblin Secrets, there is Rownie, a sad orphaned boy who wants only to be reunited with his brother. This boy has the gift for wearing masks, which his brother had also. Sadly, that is illegal in Zombay. The gear-work guards will come cart you away if you so much as put on a fake nose. The boy is taken in by some goblins, and he hopes that they will not Change him. This boy, he has a lot to worry about.

ghoulishsongIn Ghoulish Song, we see the same days, most of them, from the point of view of a girl, who has somehow lost her shadow. And the different ways that a ghoul is dealt with are interesting – in some areas, they are burned. In others, they are dismembered and buried in separate pieces. And if you’ve lost your shadow, you’re a ghoul. This book has a lot to do with music, which tames real ghouls, and may just help her get her shadow back. In the meantime, she ends up stranded on a beach, trapped in a museum and facing a ghoul in a burned out house. This girl, she too has a lot to worry about.

I loved the duality of the same things meaning beginnings and endings: waving good bye and hello; the Name Day song and the funeral song; what holds it together can also tear it apart. True of so many things. Firmly grounded in worldwide folklore, both of these books are worlds built that you will somehow recognize but that are so original and surprising that you will just want more.

And the one thing these books are full of, other than imagination and a love of language, obviously, is truth.

graveyardbookTwo by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Sort of like a macabre version of Mary Poppins, which is to take nothing away from its originality. Except our young boy has run-ins with ghouls and witches and Hounds of God, among sundry other beings. But in the same way, he is shown an alternate, a parallel world, and this is where the original bits come in. Not only do we get that delicious British turn of phrase every so often, but the plight of the poor boy, whose family is murdered prior to the first pages, is bittersweet, and at once heart-breaking and heart-warming. His name is Nobody, Bod for short, and he is being raised in a cemetery by an assortment of ghosts and other-worldly creatures that give him quite a unique take on the world – and life. The illustrations are beautiful, spare and dare I say, haunting. This book just goes to show that not everything that looks scary is bad, not everything stupid is harmless, and not every monster is evil. This is one book that I wanted to revisit almost immediately, the kind that makes you sad that no, you can’t go back again and read it for the first time.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Okay, sue me, two Neil Gaimans. But I read this first, and it was scary! It is honestly no children’s story. There are beings in here that we cannot even fathom – and that can’t be explained. It is frightening, it is mind-blowing, and highly, highly magical, lovely and original. In this latest outing, Gaiman explores memory, childhood wonder and sacrifice, among other issues. I read this months ago, and the confrontation in the field still makes me shrink back. I loved our little hero, and I loved his darling friend, and we should all be so lucky as to have an ocean at the end of our lane.

Help for the Haunted by John Searles
I was probably more affected by what I expected from this book than from what actually happened in it. The ‘Don’t go down in the basement’ vibe will definitely feed you some chills, as will the inexplicable always-burning light bulb and for sure the creepy doll Penny. Searles is a bit too vague as to what actually goes on sometimes, though, in terms of the spooky stuff. It’s all a matter of being afraid of what you don’t know. The real story here is a murder mystery compounded by a young girl whose parents had a rather unusual occupation, and who left her dealing with the aftermath of it. The scariest part involves a very real psycho, but I will leave it to you to discover just who that is. It’s a sad story that is highly charged with all the right particles to make a believable masquerade as a ghost story.

Recommended but Not Read

This House is Haunted by John Boyne
I did not get a chance to read this one, but it goes on my list due to a wonderful review by a mystery writer that I respect very much, as well as other good buzz. It’s a good old-fashioned Gothic ghost story, complete with isolated manor, intrepid governess and things that go bump in the night (in Victorian England, of course). I do wish that I had read it for this year’s column, but it will have to wait for next year, along with House of Leaves, Mrs. Poe and some others.

To find out more about what I’m reading, look for me on GoodReads. Sometimes my reviews there are lengthy, and sometimes they are really my notes for writing reviews elsewhere. But my To-Be-Read shelf overfloweth. You can also find me on Tumblr as Imagining Things, where I post pictures of cemeteries, among other things.

 

This article first appeared on Examiner.com in October 2013. All copyright retained by author.

Halloween Reads 2012 Redux

Another one from the vault! Here is my post from Halloween 2012!

Every year about this time, I pull together a list of the most spine-tingling books I’ve come across in the preceding year. I confess that they may not be the year’s current crop, but they are the ones I’ve read that I felt were good enough to make the Halloween list. I try to include a classic, a children’s selection, and a current title in each year’s selection. This year, I have only three titles on my Halloween reading list, but they are good ones!

fallofhouseofusherThe Classic
Edgar Allan Poe

Every year I review a classic piece of literature that I feel qualifies as creepy enough for Halloween. I have done Frankenstein and Dracula, and this year, I was at a loss, until I was reading about Baltimore and remembered Poe. My favorite Poe story is “The Cask of Amontillado,” but perhaps his best known story is “The Tell-Tale Heart,” or perhaps the poem “The Raven.” I find all his works spooky and creepy enough to qualify for Halloween reading. Through his “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and other whodunits, Poe is considered the father of the mystery or detective fiction genre, and as such, The Mystery Writers of America named their highest honor after him.

If you are not familiar with Edgar Allan Poe, this is the perfect time to pick up a collection of his stories, and while away a delicious evening being thoroughly amazed at the sheer inventiveness of his victims’ demises. There are many collections of his works; my copy is called The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales, which contains most of his major works. There is also Forgotten Tales and many other iterations.

Can You Survive? Bram Stoker’s Dracula (chapter book)
A Choose Your Path Book, adapted by Ryan Jacobson
Lake7Creative, $8.95
Last year, I read Dracula by Bram Stoker as one of my Halloween reads. I saw this adaptation at the Heartland Fall Forum and just could not resist picking it up. This book will keep kids (both boys and girls) occupied for hours. It is meant for tweens – ages 8-12. How Jacobson fit in the actual text from the classic Dracula into a 172-page book for kids, I will never know (I’m sure that there is a lot of descriptive material cut out). But the kernel of the story is there in all its Gothic glory (age-appropriate, of course).

Every few pages, there is a choice, and one choice leads you through the story, while the other choice – well, you get eaten by wolves or some such fatal ending. It was compelling enough that it had me flipping through both endings and yet I didn’t feel that I lost the thread of the story. Kids who like RL Stine and who are gearing up for Twilight might really enjoy this. Jacobson lives in Mora, MN and has adapted a whole series of classic tales for young readers in this way.

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
This book was under my Recommended But Not Read section last year. Well, this year, I’m here to tell you that this is the perfect freaky creepy Halloween read. A couple moves to a small village to escape a horrific tragedy – the husband is a pilot, and his plane went down, and let’s just say he didn’t pull a Scully. Turns out the village is full of witches, ghosts, and people curiously ending up dead. Oh, and there’s that door in the basement which is bolted shut with 39 bolts – the exact number of people who died on the plane. This one is full of “Get out!” and “Don’t go in the basement!” moments – and really pulls one on you at the end. I enjoyed it as a ghost story, although I did feel the ending was a bit pat, and rather confusing (fast forward from major climatic event to ten years later and everybody’s happy?). So if you are just willing to go in and have no moralistic objections, this is a good spooky story that will leave you wishing you had not stayed up alone so late.

Last year I included some kids’ stories. There is no such froth this year. It’s simply read or die! You know what you have to do…

 

This article first appeared on Examiner.com in October 2012. All copyright retained by author.

My Book Blogvember Challenge

book-blogvember

Well, it’s that time of year again! It’s time for NaNoWriMo. I have only done this once. It was a long time ago and it didn’t go well. But since then, I have simply been writing. I started a novel last year, and I am almost finished with my Zero Draft. Does that mean I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo again this year? Um, no. I just want to finish the book I’m writing, and it is not at NaNo stage!

Still, it’s fun to do something that is coordinated with a group. I follow someone on Instagram who is local and who said she was doing the writing meetups for NaNo. I am sad that I can’t partake in that fun. But then I found this! Jade over at Bedtime Bookworm is hosting a blogging challenge! And unlike the A to Z Challenge which I have participated in, this one is for book blogs!!

I need this. My book blog, as you can see, has been sorely neglected of late. I posted only one post per month during the summer. Ugh. So now, it’s time to kick this into high gear. And challenges are a great way to do that!

This is the Book Blogvember Challenge! Jade asks that anyone participating write enough during November to create 30 blog posts. I am in. And here are some other things I hope to do:

  • I want to create some posts that are not reviews. I have two big event recaps from this summer (actually, last spring) that I still want to post. I need to write those. And I’d love to do some more Author Q&As.
  • I will try to batch content because I know it works. Sunday seems to be a good day to write blog posts!
  • I also want to post some discussion-type posts. I have a lot of industry experience that I think might be helpful to other bloggers, but I would like to talk about other things too.
  • I want to get through my review backlog. I have several good books that I have read recently that deserve reviews!
  • I can’t say that I will schedule 30 posts, but I would like to get the content down, and maybe schedule 15 posts. I have only scheduled two posts in my blog’s history, and that has to change.
  • My one year blogaversary will be in December, too, so I am hoping to do something fun for that. In doing this challenge, I hope to churn through some ideas of what I can do to celebrate! 🙂

I don’t know if I’ll post every day, but I have found one thing true about writing – any kind of writing: if you put it first thing on your list, it will get done. This is what I took away from the A to Z Challenge. I also need to finish my book, so that’s going to come into play here. I am so close!

It’s time to dust off my list of blog post ideas and get writing. Join me! There’s a Twitter chat at the end on December 2, and there will be a giveaway – a signed copy of Wink, Poppy, Midnight! Jade is using the hashtag #bookblogvember so use it all month long for multiple entries in the giveaway, and to join the conversation. This is going to be fun!

Halloween Reads 2011 Redux

halloween2012No, that’s not a typo. This is my very first Halloween Reads round-up from 2011, from my Examiner column when I was the Minneapolis Books Examiner. I have recently discovered that the site is no longer active, and my old links don’t work, so I couldn’t link up to my previous Halloween Reads in my latest post. I wanted to make these available again, so here is where it all started!

Going down the garden path this time of year should lead to chills and thrills, with an ominous wind blowing and some kind of black animal flitting across your path. But if you just want to stay inside and get your chills by curling up with a good book, here are several that will give you goosebumps or at least make you lock the door. There’s still time to grab one of these and give yourself a nice night by the fire.

A Classic and a Phenom

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Last year I read Frankenstein, and this year decided to go with the Count. I can see why Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a classic, though it’s a little slow-paced for modern tastes. Maybe the problem is that we all know what’s going to happen already. But I can just imagine reading this by gaslight and not knowing about the blood-thirsty evil villain.

I also read the first Stephenie Meyer book, Twilight, and I actually liked it. I’m on to New Moon next. So whichever way you go, vampires make for a good spine-tingling read, if you don’t mind a bit of romance.

A Mysterykillingkate

Killing Kate by Julie Kramer
This mystery is the fourth in Kramer’s Riley Spartz series, about an intrepid TV reporter who seems to attract trouble like a magnet. In this one, she tracks a serial killer who leaves chalk outlines of angel wings around his victims. Unbeknownst to Spartz, he is inspired (or commanded) by a large black statue of an angel located in Iowa, just south of the Minnesota border. But Spartz has more than this creep to worry about. Nothing like a good showdown in a cemetery.

A Bit of Fantasy

Among Others by Jo Walton
This is a coming of age story written in the form of a girl’s diary. Now, don’t groan. Our girl is highly intelligent and seriously unusual. We learn her story in bits and pieces until finally we’ve got it all. She dabbles in magic and fears her mother, aka the evil witch. Along the way, we get schooled in an unbelievable book list, helped along by the book club she joins at boarding school. This book is about what happens when magic goes bad, but books are there to help you.

elsewhere_shadowsA Middle Grade

The Shadows by Jacqueline West (The Books of Elsewhere #1)
This is a story about Olive, an erstwhile loner who has moved into a rather creepy old house. In her attempt to make friends, she goes just a little bit too far, and ends up in a place that she had never dreamed existed. Loved Olive. This may just be creepy enough to keep the kids up past their bedtime.

Children’s Picture Books

Zen Ghosts by Jon J Muth
If you haven’t seen Zen Shorts, or even if you have, pick up this thoughtful, beautiful book by this Caldecott-winning author. As you might guess from the word ‘Zen,’ the story is much deeper than it appears. This is based on a legend first written down in 12th century China. It’s a bit creepy, but a little bit sad, and a kind of love story. In the book, the story is being told to children on Halloween, who always accompany the panda Stillwater. There are costumes, and there are costumes. It’s very fitting for Halloween.

The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories by David LaRochellelarochelle2011
Don’t let the cheesy title fool you (sorry, couldn’t help myself). LaRochelle is a storyteller of the first rate, and here he has imagined what might frighten ghost children. A haunted hamburger, a terribly affectionate Granny and a bad ending (so to speak) for a naughty little ghost boy make up these stories. It’s a lovely book, perfect for little ones who want something imaginative but not too scary. Note: that’s David there on the right! He is also well-known for his astounding carved pumpkins, which he distributes at this time of year. This one was presented to Redbery Books in Cable, WI.

Recommendations

I’ve not read these but they have come highly recommended by readers… nay, book lovers whom I trust.

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan
Recommended by Bethanne Patrick on Beyond the Margins
Obsessive violence is the danger in this take on a preoccupied couple who meet a man with a disturbing story to tell.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Recommended by Beth Beaty – this has apparently become a cult favorite, and I was told that anyone with a love for print would find this unbeatable. Of course, I was also told, “I was afraid of the sound of my furnace for months.” Be warned. A tricky house is more than it first appears to be, and finally becomes dangerous.

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
Comes recommended from many sources as a highly spooky ghost story. A door locked with 39 bolts in a basement baffles a family when they move into a Victorian house in a village in New England. The couple are both carrying their own demons, and this story promises a look at characters we will care about deeply, even if some of them are dead. (Note: I’ve since read this and oh my gosh yes!)

 

This article first appeared on Examiner.com in October 2011. All copyright retained by author.

Halloween Reads 2016

halloweenI love a good, creepy story, and just when I think that I have run out of good ones to talk about, I find another gold mine in an author or series that I had not heard of yet, or something that I thought everyone knew about. This is my sixth annual Halloween Reads round-up, continuing over from my old book column on Examiner. Last year, they went defunct, so sadly, those articles are gone. But you can read my 2015 recs over on my other blog, Publishing Bones (because this blog was not up yet).

Photo credit: Mark Cassell

This year, I am heavy on the YA, but that’s okay. Each year, I try to cover a few different areas: a book or two for children, a Middle Grade (MG), a Young Adult (YA) and a classic. I sometimes throw in a mystery or a contemporary, depending on what catches my eye. This year, I feel like I’ve been steeped in YA, which is perfectly fine by me. I don’t have any particular children’s books recs this year, though I know there is a 20th anniversary edition of A Nightmare Before Christmas that came out in 2013, which is the poem Tim Burton originally wrote and upon which the movie was based. I also saw lots of good titles on the Candlewick Twitter feed. As for what I’ve been able to read, I’m going to start off with a wonderful MG, then a terrific YA!

 

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee by Erin Petti

I loved this book! Everything about it – from the way the chapters were organized by scientific method, to the way that Thelma was determined to consider things from an intellectual perspective rather than let her emotions take over. She is a lovely protagonist and I loved how close she was to her family and her friends. I loved her note taking, how she reached for her notebook as an automatic reflex. We’ve got all the good ingredients here for a really scary story, too. Thelma’s dad runs an antique shop, and let’s just say there is one purchase he should have passed on! The box and the man and the creepy lady with the bun and the woods and the creepy little house! There were a few times when I was totally on the edge of my seat. When things go haywire, Thelma enlists the help of her friends who are in a paranormal society. I love the idea of a paranormal society, and how that all just fits in with what Thelma needs to discover. I am a big fan of stories that cover large time spans, and this one does it very well. We get to go back in history, and it affects everything in the present. And I love the fact that even though Thelma feels closer to her dad, she becomes closer to her mom in ways she had never anticipated. I got to meet the author at a book convention in October. She told us about the website affiliated with the book, where kids can conduct their own paranormal investigations. Pretty cool stuff! This is a delightful MG story, and I hope that we see more of Thelma Bee.

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Matherhowtohangawitch

Many stories have been set in Salem and this has to be one of the best I’ve read. This is an excellent intense paranormal thriller – honestly, I don’t know how to classify it but it is solid. The MC’s family history parallels the author’s own family history, and maybe that is why it feels so authentic. If you have a penchant for witches and ghosts, you will love this. It is not only creepy, but follows our heroine on a voyage of self-discovery, which of course is the best kind of trip. Her life is turned upside down when she is forced to move from NYC to this small town, where her family name is suddenly suspect. She is supremely tested and really has to spin her head around to determine who she can trust. She doesn’t always choose correctly. I loved all the details about spells, and the specific details about Salem itself. And I have it on good authority that Samantha will be back in future adventures! She’s only 15 so we should have a ways to go. I loved her voice as a character – her snark, her sarcasm and her tenacity. I am so glad I picked this up this past week. I blazed through it in two nights. It was intense and thrilling and ultimately satisfying.

 

I have a couple of modern classic recommendations, thanks to Alison at Little Bookworm blog! She posted this beautiful pic and I just had to have it. There were descriptions of these on her account and I have paraphrased them here (all credit to Alison).

Susan Hill – three novellas

susanhillalisonThe Woman in Black – in which a a solicitor sent to clear up legal matters spies a mysterious woman at the funeral for the owner of Eel Marsh house. This poor solicitor has to stay on to sort things out in the lonely house, when the mist begins to creep up, cutting the house off from the rest of the world. (Psst that’s an Eel Marsh House candle! By William Joseph Candles.)

The Small Hand – Poor Adam Snow stumbles across the derelict old White House late one evening and decides to enter, only to be repelled when he feels a small hand creeping into his own. This is just the beginning of a series of odd experiences.

Printer’s Devil Court – A mysterious manuscript, terrifying medical experiments and secrets secrets secrets. This one sounds like just my cup of tea – Dickensonian with a touch of Shelley.

Alison posted this pic on her Instagram account (Go! Look for @littlebookwormig). They are beautiful books! She says they are special Susan Hill Collector’s Editions. There are more in the set.

 

Also thanks to Alison, I have been reminded of Stephen King. This pic of hers gives me the willies. If you haven’t read any Stephen King, I recommend starting with Salem’s Lot:

Salem’s Lot by Stephen Kingstephenkingalison

I read this when I was like 12. It was super creepy. It’s all about vampires who take over a town – I mean, the town turns into vampires. King excels at building up characters so that you really care about them, and then putting them in terrifying situations, and in some cases, making them terrifying. So that you are doubly traumatized, see? The most haunting image, after all these years, is the family in the trailer. Just. Oh. I have to say, after reading this and The Amityville Horror (see below), I am pretty much done with horror books. My head just creates scenes that are too scary. I have watched a few of the movies from King’s work, like Carrie and The Shining, and yep, I gotta stop there. But that’s just me. You, you go ahead and read them all!

 

You can find more recommendations in the Fortnight of Fright feature over at The Book Addicts Guide, because I am sad I didn’t come up with the idea first! Two whole weeks of round-ups – whew! I’m too much of a chicken to read *actual* horror books, so if you like those, go on over to check out things like The Haunting of Hill House, etc. I can’t read them any more after reading The Amityville Horror when I was like 13. Saw red eyes everywhere for weeks! See, there’s two recs right there…

 

There are some books that just stay with you. I am dying (haha, dying, get it?) to return to the completely creepy aesthetic of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger – and I have been searching diligently for it. Another book that has stayed with me was The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian – just when you think you know how things are going to end… Also, the YA series The Hollow by Jessica Verday was very overlooked. I loved the vibe of that.

So if you are looking for a fantastically creepy read this Halloween, I hope that I have helped you out. I’m sad that I couldn’t link to my previous posts. They have gone on into the ether. So I may repost them here, if I can find the time this week. Stay tuned! If you have any suggestions for others, or comments on the above, please leave a comment!

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