Scary reads for Halloween

Today I thought I’d pick out a few books from my archive that would make scary reading for Halloween tomorrow. I know, more recycling of posts, but it’s fun for me to look back at my blog, and maybe you’ll find a book you might like to read too. The links are to my reviews in the text, and where you can buy at the bottom.

Firstly, a book for all ages (well for brave 8yrs+):

Moviewatch - Coraline (3D)

Coraline by Neil Gaiman.  This is a deliciously scary children’s novel that is destined to become an absolute classic. Think Clive Barker for kids, but with a sense of humour and you’re about there.  The animated film is rather wonderful too.  I never thought I’d get scared of everyday items of haberdashery, but Coraline will do that for you (see the bottom of this post if you dare!)

Now for a grown-up novel about werewolves:

red moonRed Moon by Benjamin Percy. Imagine a post 9/11 America into which a new threat has emerged to fuel a nation’s paranoia. It’s the age of the werewolf, or Lycans as Percy dubs them.  Percy’s take on the werewolf genre is firmly grounded in the real world rather than the paranormal which does add a genuinely different feel to this novel. His new approach takes the paranormal out of lycanthropy, and creates a grisly and gritty horror-thriller of speculative fiction.

… and IMHO the best vampire book yet written:

lettherightoneinLet the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. When I came to this Nordic vampire novel, I found something truly dark and horrific that needed a strong stomach and nerves of steel. It is a real contemporary chiller, full of violence and gore, totally relentless – yet at its heart is a the redemptive relationship between a twelve year old boy and a 200 year old vampire frozen into the body of a young girl. A bit long, but stunningly plotted and easily the equal of the best Scandicrime novels.

I shall finish with a classic:

jekyllDr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by R L Stevenson. I love novels about mad professors – and this is the daddy of them all. Most of us in the modern age will know the essential twist but there is so much more to Stevenson’s clever story than that. The edition I read also contained two very Gothic short stories by Stevenson too – The Body Snatcher and Markheim – both brilliant also.

What scary books are you reading for Halloween?

34154-coralinephoto

You can button your own eyes at Coraline.com Click on the portrait in the house …

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To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
Let the Right One In John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Telling it from the monster’s side …

Sad Monsters: Growling on the Outside, Crying on the Insideby Frank Lesser.

Sad Monsters

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been having a chuckle dipping into this book of humorous short pieces, which are written from monsters’ points of view. Almost any monster you can think of puts in an appearance – let me give you a flavour of some of my favourites:

Questioning Godzilla’s Existence
March 8 – Wound up hitting snooze for six more months. Barely had enough energy to rampage to the bathroom, let alone through a city, but finally rolled out of bed and destroyed Tokyo. Again. Starting to wonder what’s the point? They’re just going to rebuild.
March 12 – Couldn’t sleep, so woke up early and went for a job through Osaka. Kept wondering what happens to people after I stomp on them. Do they have souls that live on, that I can also stomp on? Or is the human soul unstompable? Maybe I’m just going through a midlife thing Never had these worries during the Mesozoic era. When I was younger, each screaming villager felt like a triumph, like I was really doing something with my life. Now I just wish they’d shut up and accept it, or at least quit it with the anti-aircraft missiles. Those thing really irritate my eczema.

The rest of Godzilla’s diary is similarly existential. You can also find a whole series of personal ads, a bestiary of unsuccessful monsters, an interior design guide on how to keep your genie happy, and so on. Then there’s this one:

The Joy of Unicorns
Hey, preteen girls, put down the rock and roll music records and listen up! If you give up your virginity before you get married, you’ll miss out on something far better than sex: befriending a unicorn. …
However, one night of mind-blowing, soul-shattering ecstasy means you’ll never in your life enjoy this magical creature’s gentle nuzzling. (It feels like taking a bubble bath full of giggling puppies!) And unlike a sex-crazed boyfriend, a unicorn will never “use” you. …
So the next time your boyfriend tries to get you to “go all the way,” tell him you don’t want to “horse” around, because you’d rather get “horn-y” with your platonic unicorn. then be sure to tell your unicorn what you said. They love puns, and every time a unicorn laughs, an angel has tender sexual intercourse on her wedding night. And nine months later, a rainbow is born!

I always hated My Little Pony!  There are many more –  notes on the fridge from Dorian Grey’s flatmate, Igor’s résumé and a reference for a yeti who wants to get into fashion to highlight just a few.  My last favourite though is a sermon from a Mer-preacher, here’s a small snippet:

The world above the waves seems to offer so much: sunlight, dancing, food that isn’t sushi. But assimilating into human society is no fairy tale. I would tell you to ask the Little Mermaid, but you can’t, because as we learn in the Gospel of Hans Christian, when her love married someone else, the godless mer-whore disintegrated into sea foam.

Everyone will have their own favourites amongst these forty or so pieces depending on the appeal to the reader of the monsters lampooned – I’m not bothered about mummies or Bigfoot, but love fairy tale beasts, vampires and werewolves and their ilk. Some tales work better than others, but they’re clever, ingenious and full of good puns. My only criticism is that they’re mostly written in the same jocular tone, and if you read more than a few at a time, it can get get a little samey. This is often the case with humour collections though – I love the late Alan Coren’s columns, but again can only read a couple at a time, so distinctive was his voice.

Taken in small bites, I feel I’ve got to know all these Sad Monsters so much better. This book is great fun, and ideal seasonal fare for those who scare easily. (7.5/10)

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Source: Publisher – thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Sad Monsters: Growling on the Outside, Crying on the Inside by Frank Lesser, pub Oct 2013 by Souvenir Press, paperback.

Becoming human

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This book has won the top awards for children’s fiction going – the US Newbery, the UK Carnegie, plus a Hugo for SF/Fantasy amongst many other awards and nominations. The Graveyard Book is Gaiman’s first full length novel for children since Coraline, (which I loved and reviewed here). Would it live up to my expectations and the hype, as it had been sitting on my bedside pile for long enough…?

The story of Nobody Owens, a boy whose family were all murdered one night in the first few pages of the book.   He was just a toddler then, but somehow evaded the killer by toddling into the adjacent graveyard, where a pair of kindly ghosts adopt him and give him his name. They bring him up with the help of the mysterious Silas who becomes his mentor – a rather vampirical character; all the other spectral inhabitants of the graveyard help out of course.  Young ‘Bod’, as they call him, gets a rather fantastical education from all of these phantoms, many of whom died centuries ago.  As he grows up he has many adventures in the graveyard with the ghosts, also venturing into some of the other portals within. As he nears adolescence though, he yearns to find out what lies outside – but the murderer is still looking for him.  Bod has to find the perfect balance and manage not to draw attention to himself, but he is a caring boy and when he stands up for a bullied child he puts himself in danger …

I’d defy older children and frankly anyone else not to enjoy this book.  The various adventures of Bod as he grows up read like short stories, with the linked background and threat of murder all the way through. Gaiman wrote with Kipling’s Jungle Book as inspiration for the tale of an orphan brought up by non-humans, and then puts his own macabre and spooky twists on the orphan’s tale.   The Graveyard itself has a ‘Highgate Cemetery’ feel to it with its old stones and its very own Egyptian Avenue – Highgate enthusiast Audrey Niffenegger took Gaiman on the tour.

What I liked about the graveyard was that during the daytime it is a haven, a tranquil place for reflection, yet one where you wouldn’t be surprised to find children happily playing among the headstones.  Step outside the consecrated ground into the big, bad world beyond though, and its powers and inhabitants can no longer help you. This is where one of the other great characters in the book was helpful – Liza Hempstock, a young witch who died in the ducking stool was buried outside, and has a wonderful devil may care attitude, but Bod befriends her and she comes to his aid.

Gaiman’s imagination is fantastic, and aided by Chris Riddell’s wonderfully quirky illustrations (I’m a huge fan of Riddell), this book leapt off the page.  Also published in a YA/adult crossover edition with illustrations by Dave McKean too.

The Graveyard Book is much less of a horror story than Coraline, this book is more of a coming of age tale, and has positively wistful moments too – I loved it. (9/10)

I bought this book (with the Riddell illustrations). For another recent review read what Simon S thought about it.

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To buy from Amazon.co.uk, click below:
The Graveyard Book
Coraline

Bah Humbug!

I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas by Adam Roberts

Given that Yellow Blue Tibia by Roberts was both the maddest and best SF book I read this year, I had high hopes of this zombie take on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as a bit of fun this festive season.  Would it live up to the fun I had with Pride & Prejudice & Zombies ? (reviewed here last year).

Whereas P&P&Z keeps Austen’s prose moreorless intact, adding the ‘zombie mayhem’ into the original, I am Scrooge keeps the main characters and then riffs on the story telling of a rather different Christmas night for Scrooge as the ghosts show him how the world will become populated by zombies if he doesn’t change his ways.

Marley was dead, to begin with. Dead for about three minutes, that is: then he got up again. The clergyman, the clerk and the undertaker had all certified him dead: and these were all men experienced in the business of dealing with dead bodies. They were all astonished, then – and more than astonished – to hear his corpse groan, and to see it shake and move. If their surprise did not last long, it was only because it very quickly turned to terror as Marley reached out and sank his fingers into the soft flesh of the clerk’s and the undertaker’s throats, and, using them as leverage, pulled himself forward to bite down hard into the face of the clergyman…

So it begins – and I stopped the quote before it gets truly gory! Marley is the first zombie of many lurching out in search of brains to eat, but Marley wants Scrooge’s in particular.  The story starts promisingly, with touches of corny humour and bucketloads of gore, but goes downhill with the arrival of the second ghost of Christmas future.  This phantom is irritating to the core, talking in modern argot like Ali G – with nah, innit, bruv and amirite all over the place – this was bizarre as the future Scrooge is shown is 1899.  Sadly, this wasn’t funny at all and submerges the plot under its weight.  I did like the twist at the end though …

This one misfired for me, but it won’t stop me reading more of Roberts’ SF though. (6/10) O

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To buy these books from Amazon.co.uk, click below:
I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas
Yellow Blue Tibia: A Novel
A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings (Penguin Classics) by Charles Dickens
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance-now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! (Quirk Classics) by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Sookie Stackhouse #2

Living Dead In Dallas by Charlaine Harris

Living Dead in Dallas is the second in the hugely successful Sookie Stackhouse series of vampire novels by Charlaine Harris. If by any chance you’ve not encountered them before, either as books or in their TV incarnation True Blood, I suggest you start here.

In this second novel, Sookie is developing and deepening her relationship with her vampire boyfriend Bill – at the start she’s still not sure whether it’s true love or still lust (as sex with a vampire is something else).  Then a series of events happen to test them to the limit…

Lafayette, the outrageously gay short-order cook at Merlotte’s where Sookie works is cruelly murdered and Sookie vows to find out who killed her friend.  Then another supernatural being turns up in the woods outside town – the Maenad wild woman (yes, of Greek myth), half kills Sookie and demands tribute from the local undead.  Then Bill’s vampire chief Eric wants to loan Sookie out to help another group of vamps in Dallas (Sookie is a telepath, remember) – one of the group has disappeared and they need Sookie to read some minds to find out where he is.  Sookie agrees as long as the vampires don’t hurt the humans involved, and off they go to Dallas and into a whole mess of crime, vampire hunters, shape-shifters and more.

Once again, I found Sookie and Bill to be great fun, the only bit I wasn’t sure about was the Maenad, otherwise it was more of the same and I loved it.  I liked how Sookie is developing her skills as a telepath and how she is able to stand up to anything or anyone, whereas Bill is as cool as ever.  Again there is an underlying crime element which adds to the plot too. 

I know these books aren’t to everyone’s taste, but for me they’re great, racy, gory fun!  (8.5/10).
I bought this book.

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To buy from Amazon.co.uk click below:
Living Dead In Dallas by Charlaine Harris
True Blood Season 1 (HBO) [DVD] [2008]

Gaskella’s Midweek Miscellany #17

Bits and pieces today …

I would like to read one of Howard Jacobson’s novels soon, but don’t know where to start. Although The Finkler Question won the Booker, it doesn’t feel like the right book to meet an author new to me with.

I’ve heard that The Mightly Walzer is good, but am slightly put off by the coming of age and ping-pong themes, so should I try his previous Booker-listed one, Kalooki Nights – or indeed any other one of his novels. 

Your advice would be appreciated.

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Next, I’d like to highlight one of my very favourite blogs – The Age of Uncertainty. Steerforth works with old books, and is always finding things of interest in them – particularly old photos, and he has a unique way of bringing them to life in his blog. The post the link will take you to summarises some recent highlights.

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Finally, when the publisher kindly sent me these wraparound editions of YA Buffy the vampire slayer novels – each with three stories, I was rather looking forward to reading some as part of my Season of the Living Dead.  I’ve only ever seen a couple of episodes of the TV series, but thought the books could be fun.  They are standalone I believe, not novelisations of TV episodes, and each is by a different author.  I read one complete tale, and skimmed a couple of others, realising that they were not for me – so they’ve got to one of my friends who is a Buffy fan.  I do like the covers though – very much in vogue – ‘white is the new black’ these days don’t you know. 

I think recognised one of the authors though … many years ago (it’s confession time), I used to read all the Star Trek novels – I was a real Trekkie and my fandom didn’t burn out until my early thirties – I managed to stop short of buying a uniform and going to conventions though.  However I did have about forty of the Trek novels, and the two series have an author, (or possibly more ?) in common! 

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To buy books mentioned from Amazon.co.uk – click below:
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson
Kalooki Nights by Howard Jacobson
Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1: Coyote Moon; Night of the Living Rerun; Portal Through Time
Buffy the Vampire Slayer 2: Halloween Rain; Bad Bargain; Afterimage

A ghostly story for autumnal nights

The Small Hand by Susan Hill.

Susan Hill is justly renowned for her ghost stories – her best-known one is The Woman in Black which is both chilling and a darned good read.  The Small Hand is her latest, and I thoroughly enjoyed it too.

It starts off simply.  Adam Snow, an antiquarian bookseller is on his way home from meeting a client when he gets lost up winding country roads. Looking for somewhere to get directions he finds an old overgrown garden with a rambling and rather closed-up white house. Just when he thinks he’s totally alone, he feels  a small hand take his – but there’s no-one there. Adam puts it down to an overactive imagination, but over the following weeks he starts to get slightly paranoid and he has what he believes is a full-on panic attack.  He goes on a book-hunting trip abroad and he feels the hand again – but this time it is pulling him towards a precipice, and from hereon in things start to get dangerously spookier.

This short novel has only 167 small pages and only needs one sitting – indeed taking a break in the middle could deflate the tension.  Hill has great skill in crafting books where ‘less is more’ and not a word is wasted.  Adam narrates his own story, and this really involves the reader as we share in his experiences; him being a bookseller was an added bonus for me too.  After his initial encounter we’re lulled into a false sense of security until events take a different turn; the pace picks up and we’re pulled along towards the shocking conclusion. 

This was a great little book – perfect for the time of year.  (8.5/10) I bought this.
pub by Profile Books, Sept 2010, 167 pages.

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To order books from Amazon.co.uk – click below:
The Small Hand
The Woman In Black

Return of the Living Dead …

It’s that time of year again when I fit a few spooky novels into my October reading plans.  Last year I read only vampire stories – this year I’m ranging more widely for fearsome creatures and I’ve started off with a ‘Teen Gothic’ novel about werewolves…

Claire De Lune by Christine Johnson

Claire is just a normal teenager and she fancies Matthew Engel.  She doesn’t think she’s anything special but Matthew is definitely attracted to her – yippee!   However these are strange times in Hanover Falls – the town appears to have a werewolf problem. Several gruesome killings have got everyone scared. Matthew’s father is a famous werewolf hunter – he believes he has invented a process to ‘cure’ them and the town is behind him and his quest to rid them of the problem. Then it’s Claire’s sixteenth birthday party around the pool and she’s clicking with Matthew, shame her skin is itching.

Her mother soon breaks the bad news to her – she’s a werewolf, and she can’t go out with the son of the hunter!  Claire is thrust into a quandary – she must learn to manage the transformation and learn about being a werewolf and how to keep it secret, but she of course has fallen in love with Matthew. Marie introduces her to the rest of the pack in the woods at full moon when they go out to hunt animals.  They are equally concerned about the rogue werewolf as it threatens their existence too.

So everything is set up for a classic scenario of  forbidden romance, and a transformational coming of age, but Teen Wolf it ain’t – this is no comedy,  and Claire takes everything very seriously indeed.  These are not normal werewolves either – unusually they’re all female – they mate with normal men, and female offspring will become werewolves; male foetuses can’t survive the mother’s transformation.  The changes and supersenses are generally well handled.  What is less convincing are the relationships. Claire didn’t seem angry enough with her mother to me, becoming accepting of their condition very quickly – after all her mother had disappeared on ‘business’ trips every month for years leaving her with the au pair.  Matthew whilst a hottie, was also rather sweet, which made everything rather predictable and all the ends tied up so neatly.

Still, it was a better read than many of the other ‘Twi-likes’ I’ve read.  (6.5/10)
Pub by Simon Pulse – paperback 336pp.  Sent by the publisher.

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To buy from Amazon.co.uk click below:
Claire De Lune by Christine Johnson
Teen Wolf / Teen Wolf Too [DVD] [1985]

 

Another OK-ish teen paranormal romance

The Immortals: Evermore by Alyson Noel

Let me tell you what I liked in this book:
+ There is a ghost that steals every scene she’s in;
+ The heroine has psychic powers that she struggles to control;
+ There are no vampires;
+ The heroine is not quite as squeaky clean as a certain other heroine;
+ The language of flowers;
+ It’s a quick and easy read.

Now let me tell you what I didn’t like so much in this book:
– Damen, Ever, Haven – silly names – Sorry!
– Damen just seemed not to care enough, unlike a certain other hero;
– Ever wasn’t really angsty enough;
– Summerland was confusing, I don’t believe Drina couldn’t find it;
– The red drink they had to imbibe reminded me of ‘Trublood’.
– The Immortals seemed just like vampires who didn’t kill – hang on, isn’t that in another book?

So on balance  6+ and 6- = OK.  Younger teens will probably love this book. Me, I’m over forty and need good writing, more plot and characterisation, but what do I know!

(5.5/10; Book supplied by the Amazon Vine programme)

All Angst and No Action

The Hollow by Jessica Verday

I liked the fact that The Hollow doesn’t have vampires or angels, but is linked to the ghostly apparitions of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and the book itself is set in the town of that story. Then I started reading, and was immediately irritated by Abigail aka Abbey, who emphasises words in italics all the time and endlessly tells us about the minutiae of what’s happening in her life. 

She does have a right to be upset with the world – the book starts off at her best friend’s funeral and everyone is treading on eggshells around her.  Kristen is supposed to have drowned, but at the start of the story, a body hasn’t been found. Abbey’s aim in life is to skip college, become a businesswoman and open her own store, selling her own perfumes inspired by Irving’s story – all this helps to pad out the story to 500 or so widely typed pages. However when she meets Caspian – a ‘real hottie’, things do start to get interesting.  In the best teen gothic tradition, there is much longing and just one fleeting kiss. Together they sort of start to investigate why Kristen was by the river that fateful night, but don’t really get anywhere. Apart from a climax scene set in the cemetery, that’s it really. Nothing much happens at all, less even than in Twilight.

Underneath all the waffle, there was a good teen gothic story trying to get out.  If this book was pared down bigtime and combined with its inevitable sequel to make one good novel, it would be an enjoyable read for any adult Twilight fan. With the Sleepy Hollow tale as its backbone, it does have something different to build on. Strangely enough, I did keep reading to the end – desperately wishing for some action.  I’m going to pass it on to my twelve year old niece – she’ll probably love it!  (6/10, Book sent by the publisher)