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Archive for the ‘Scary Stories’ Category

setSo, what would you give for the chance to see a dead loved one again? How about seeing them at the significant times in their lives, times you couldn’t possibly have known about? What about the chance to talk with them in their afterworld? Sixteen-year-old Zoe discovers that the price may be far more than she believed possible.

Zoe’s father died unexpectedly.  Not only has she lost her beloved dad, his life insurance company has declared that he never existed (at least in their files). She and her mom are forced to move from their familiar home to a cramped urban apartment while Zoe’s mom searches for work. Zoe has a history of cutting and drug use, so her mom is always on her back.

Her sole consolation is a young man she regularly sees in her dreams. Valentine is like a brother to her, and the tree fort they hang out in is a refuge from the bizarre world beneath their feet. He listens to her, offers good advice, and is genuinely present and concerned for her. But she doesn’t have any idea if he’s real or a manifestation of something else.

While skipping school and mindlessly wandering through San Francisco, she winds up in front of an old record store specializing in punk music on vinyl. But the weird store owner has another room, one only certain people can see. Inside the room are discs that have captured the lives and souls of the dead. Zoe gets a taste of her father’s life, but she’ll have to pay with something more precious and talismanic if she wants more. When she decides she won’t pay and is cut off, she must summon her wits and her courage to find a path to the underworld.

But that underworld is a hellish landscape, a purgatory without hope of either redemption or judgment. Zoe has to negotiate her way through a bizarre parody of a city, evading vengeful spirits whipped up by hatred of the living, and searching for an exit known only to ones who would kill her, or worse.

Kadrey has created a resourceful, determined young woman who is surprised by her own strength, and set her in an eerie world filled with disturbing imagery.  The tone reminded me of two other books reviewed here on BFGB – John Connolly’s  The Book of Lost Things and Robert Olen Butler’s Hell.  Unlike the latter though, I would feel comfortable suggesting this to older teens. Most of all, it reminded me of the classic Greek stories of Orpheus and Odysseus’ journeys, and indeed the book has many subtle allusions to Greek myth.  This is definitely a dark book with some heavy themes, but a good read.

Check the WRL catalogue for Dead Set

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http://contentcafe2.btol.com/ContentCafe/jacket.aspx?UserID=EBSWL87077&Password=CC38621&Return=1&Type=L&Value=9781781162644Stephen King has been particularly prolific in the last several years, putting out one or more novels annually. As a relatively new Stephen King fan, I had to check out 2013’s Joyland, King’s second novel after 2005’s The Colorado Kid for the Hard Case Crime imprint. As usual, King was full of surprises.

I was expecting a rather straightforward murder mystery, but found myself consumed by something larger — an often sweet, sometimes weepy coming-of-age story whose characters have stayed with me long after finishing the book. I didn’t expect to be so touched, but of course, this is Stephen King so I should have anticipated the unexpected.

Devin Jones is a broke 21-year-old college student who takes a job at a carnival in North Carolina during the summer of 1973. As Devin gets to know the colorful regulars who work at the park, he learns of the tragedy that happened some four years earlier. A young woman named Linda Gray had been killed in the park’s Horror House, a haunted house ride. Ms. Gray had been thrown onto the ride’s tracks by an unidentified man. Carnival employees claim that they see Gray’s ghost, at various times, hanging around the Horror House. Devin is intrigued by the story and embarks on an investigation to uncover Linda Gray’s killer, who may still be alive and lurking around.

This is the set-up for the book; however, the most intriguing parts of the story, the real meat of the book, had very little to do with the Linda Gray murder mystery. Rather, the most intriguing parts of the story had more to do with Devin’s journey to adulthood. You see, Devin Jones is nursing a broken heart. Still pining for his college sweetheart who dumped him – a woman who no longer has feelings for him, if she ever did – the Linda Gray murder mystery provides Devin with a welcome, albeit disturbing, distraction.

Along the way, Devin meets Mike (an outgoing young boy who is dying from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy) and Annie (young Mike’s reclusive mother who may be hiding some kind of secret). While Mike’s enthusiasm for squeezing the most out of a life that is slipping away prompts the depressive Devin to consider his own life anew, Devin discovers with the thirty-something-year-old Annie a deeper attachment than he’d ever had with the college sweetheart who broke his heart.

Devin’s relationship with Mike and Annie dovetails with the Linda Gray murder mystery in interesting ways. Even so, the murder mystery itself is almost pushed to the background until the very end of the novel. That’s okay though, because what we grow to care most about is Devin’s relationship with Mike and Annie and Devin’s growth as a person.

The power of Joyland the novel derives, in part, from its strong sense of place. Joyland the carnival feels so real because Stephen King immerses you – the reader of Joyland — in the language of “carnies” (carnival workers). For example, “wearing the fur” means donning the costume of the park’s mascot Howie the Happy Hound and entertaining the visiting kids, an act Devin becomes intimately familiar with. And a “conie” is an unsuspecting visitor, one who can be easily conned or manipulated.

Joyland is a tearjerker, so get the tissues ready. Joyland is also oddly uplifting, and the pay-off at the end is well worth the ride. If you’d prefer to check out the audiobook version of Joyland, don’t hesitate, because Michael Kelly does an excellent job of narration.

Check the WRL Catalog for Joyland

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screaming“Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victims, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.”

Ever since the Problem began (in Kent), no one goes out at night, not unless they’re armed with iron and salt to guard against spirits. For the last fifty years, nighttime is when ghostly Visitors come out to lament or avenge their untimely deaths, terrorize the living, drive down real estate assessments, etc. Because the young are particularly sensitive to paranormal energies, children and teens with psychic talents are prized as field operatives for the best ghost-investigating agencies.

Lucy Carlyle, age 15, is the newest hire at a not-so-reputable agency, Lockwood and Co., a small-time outfit run without adult supervisors by “old enough and young enough” Anthony Lockwood and his colleague George. Lockwood, proprietor, can see the residual death-glows where someone has died; Lucy can hear their voices, if she gets close enough; and George does research and cooks.

When their latest case results in not only failing to rid the premises of a ghost, but also burning the house down, Lockwood’s only chance at keeping the agency afloat is to land a really lucrative client. Say, the CEO of Fairfax Iron, owner of the most haunted private house in England, epicenter of dozens of rumored hauntings along its Screaming Staircase and in its sinister library, the Red Room. All the agents have to do is spend one night in the manor… and live.

This first book in a new series from the author of the Bartimaeus books has well-paced action and good old-fashioned swashbuckling with silver-tipped rapiers. Lockwood is dashing and cheeky, a Sherlock Holmes with two Watsons who, while inspiring his cohorts to their best work, never lets them in on his thoughts or his plan. He and Lucy and George are a camaraderie-in-the-making, if only they didn’t get on one another’s nerves quite so often.

“I’m being ironic. Or is it sarcastic? I can never remember.”
“Irony’s cleverer, so you’re probably being sarcastic.”

Fast moving, witty, and nicely creepy, the series is written for a middle grade audience, but entertaining enough for any age that appreciates a good ghost story.

Check the WRL catalog for The Screaming Staircase.

You can read the first chapter online at the author’s Tumblr.

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moserAs I wrote about last year at this time, many readers first come to stories of the uncanny in their youth. In browsing the catalog for a collection of ghost stories for younger readers, I came across this delightful anthology compiled by Barry Moser. Moser is an noted artist, especially at printmaking and woodcuts, and his work graces the pages here. He also clearly has an ear for a good ghost story.

This collection starts with the chilling classic “The Monkey’s Paw.” I remember reading this story as a child and it still sends a shiver up my spine now just thinking on it. Be careful what you wish for is the theme here. Moser includes stories from classic writers, among them, Arthur Conan Doyle’s, “How it Happened,” the story of a car accident and its aftermath and the old, ghostly ballad of Polly Vaughn, retold by Moser himself. But there are more contemporary tales as well. Madeline L’Engle’s “Poor Little Saturday” is an excellent story of how a lonely boy finds some surcease of sorrow as he explores a haunted mansion. Joyce Carol Oates, known for her dark adult fiction, contributes a story here, “The Others,” that in its lack of resolution is a great addition to the ghost story canon. Also of note, and both related to music, are “Samantha and the Ghost,” by Philippa Pearce, where a young girl frees her grandparents’ cottage from a ghostly visitor and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann.”

None of the stories here is overly scary (well, maybe “The Monkey’s Paw” is for me), and a couple of them are pretty mild as far as ghost stories go by modern standards. But they are fun stories to read, and perhaps to read aloud. Moser’s illustrations add an extra frisson to the general eeriness.

Check the WRL catalog for Great Ghost Stories

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nortonI have always enjoyed Brad Leithauser’s poetry. He is one of the “New Formalists,” who have advocated for the use of metrical form and structure in modern poetry, as opposed to those who favor free verse. So I thought it was interesting to come across an anthology of ghost stories edited by Leithauser.

One thing that makes this collection a bit different from the others I have written about this week is that Leithauser does not limit himself to the old masters of the genre. While Henry and M.R. James are both included, as is the delightfully named Oliver Onions, Leithauser also includes pieces from later 20th century writers, including V.S. Pritchett, A.S. Byatt, John Cheever, and Penelope Fitzgerald. In his introduction, Leithauser notes that there are two branches to the ghost story genre, and the two Jameses, conveniently, delineate each  branch. M.R is a master of what Leithauser calls the “plot ghost story” and Henry of the “psychological ghost story.” While I favor the former, Leithauser is more interested in the latter, and the collected stories here reflect that interest.

There are some deeply chilling tales here. Marghanita Laski’s “The Tower” finds a woman seeking to impress her somewhat distant husband by exploring an isolated tower in the Italian countryside, with ambiguous results. “The Axe,” by Penelope Fitzgerald starts off as a memo of a rather routine, if callous, office firing, and devolves into something much darker. Cheever’s “The Music Teacher” explores many of the same themes of Cheever’s novels, infidelity, lost love, and suburban life, but with a darkly supernatural twist.

As Leithauser says about fans of ghost stories at the end of his introduction, “In their bones they know that the universe is unsettling whether it is inhabited by spirits or whether we—lone walkers on a bitter night—are alone in the windy darkness.” These collected stories all capture that sense of unease, and keep you looking over your shoulder.

Check the WRL catalog for The Norton Book of Ghost Stories

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victorianHave I said how much I like Victorian era ghost stories? These atmospheric tales seem to me the perfect autumn reading. The Victorians, as the editors here point out, had a fascination with death, and that extended to their fascination with the afterlife. Think about Arthur Conan Doyle, who invented that exceptionally rational detective Sherlock Holmes, but who also believed in the power of mediums to connect with the dead. It comes as no surprise that some of the best ghost stories written come from this death-haunted period.

Oxford University Press is known for its exceptional anthologies, and Victorian Ghost Stories is an excellent example of their work. The collection brings together a superb assortment of authors telling chilling tales published between 1852 and 1908. Some of the well-known suspects are here, the Jameses, Henry and M.R., Wilkie Collins, and Elizabeth Gaskell among others, but there were also lots of new authors I had not encountered before. I particularly enjoyed “At Chrighton Abbey” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, where ghostly hunters presage a tragedy at Christmas-tide. Or there is Charlotte Riddell’s “The Open Door,” where a young man makes his fortune by risking his life in an ostensibly haunted manor house. All of these tales create an atmosphere of suspense without resorting to cheap tricks or gory details. The Victorians really were masters of the uncanny.

These would be great stories to read aloud by candle light, or better yet the light of just a fireplace. Let the shadows start to dance on the wall, listen to the creaking as the house settles and the tree branches scrape and scratch, or is that just what you think you are hearing?

Check the WRL catalog for Victorian Ghost Stories: An Oxford Anthology

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dahlMost readers know Roald Dahl for his wonderful, though often dark, children’s novels–Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Witches, and many others. Dahl also wrote short fiction aimed at adults. In those stories, Dahl always “aims to disturb” the reader, and, skillful writer that he is, he generally achieves his goal. So when picking stories for this collection, and horror fiction almost always works best in the short story format to my mind, Dahl sought out writers of the uncanny who could tell a tale that would leave you ill at ease. I can attest that he succeeded, at least in my case.

While there are some familiar names in this collection,  including E.F. Benson, Edith Wharton, and Sheridan Le Fanu, most of the writers here were new to me. Dahl says he read “seven hundred and forty-nine ghost stories” in compiling the tales presented here, and he was “completely dazed by reading so much rubbish.” But the fourteen titles he chose are among the best ghost stories written.

From the opening story “W.S” in which a writer finds himself pursued by one of his characters to the final tale, “The Upper Berth,” involving the haunting of a cabin on board an ocean liner, these stories all will make you decidedly uncomfortable and likely to turn an extra light or two on around the house.

Dahl sought out stories that were neither violent nor graphic, but rather ones that seemed likely enough at the outset and then took a strange turn somewhere along the way. Empty rooms and loneliness seem to propel many of these tales. Often the protagonist finds him- or herself alone, perhaps at the holidays or in a new city. This alone-ness sets the stage for some supernatural encounter, though it is often only afterwards that the uncanny nature of things is revealed.

If you like M.R. James or Henry James for that matter you will find a lot to enjoy in these stories selected by a master of the macabre.

Check the WRL catalog for Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories

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