There are so many haunted houses stories out there that I could do this kind of post every Halloween for a hundred more years and not run out of books to read. And despite all the ones I have read, I am always up to hear how someone else managed the haunted house trope into something different than the one I read before.
Both of the books I review today possess my least favorite facet of some horror fiction: they don’t really resolve. The scary cycle is doomed to continue itself and people in the future next round are doomed to the same fate that the characters that you cared about were subject to this time. When I was newer to horror it bothered me more than it does now, but it still does, a little, that these stories don’t end with a resolution of the greater issue.
Needless to say I have wandered away from the cozier Halloween reads, but I have some unread ones on my kindle telling me that I really need to come back.
Within These Walls, Ania Ahlborn
Okay, so I love Ania Ahlborn’s books. This is the third one of hers I have read, and I did not realize that when I started to read her she was self pub. She was that good. A lot of the self pub I read earlier on did not have the polish and engagement I found in her stories. She has since been picked up by Simon and Schuster, inevitably.
Within These Walls brilliantly combined the haunted house trope with the cult trope. And being a Psychologist she does well with the both: the mentality of getting pulled into the cult and the haunted house that makes you severely question your grip on reality. She weaves them in a manner reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Shining, which is a compliment. The struggling writer with a failing marriage taking a chance on moving to a new place to revive both, under the ruse of being granted an exclusive interview by a killer in prison. The fun really begins when he brings his neglected and misunderstood 12 year old daughter with him and leaves his wife back in New Jersey. Two plot lines weaving and knotting and twisting into one another with surprises and brilliance and interest.
I have read Seed and The Bird Eater and I think this one showed more sophistication on her part. I want to read The Neighbors and The Shuddering and the rest of the books she has put out, whether before the big five pickup or not. She’s great and I follow her on Facebook and Twitter and I wish I had the investment in writing to take her horror writing course.
77 Shadow Street, Dean Koontz
Another personal reading challenge for myself is to read authors who I have stayed away from due to their huge popularity. I picked this one out for last year’s round of Halloween reads that I never made it to, which also happened with a book I am reading right now for the next posts on Halloween books.
So, this one was harder for me to make it through than Within These Walls. It is a house built on the one space time fault in the world and every 38 years the fault opens and punishes and terrorizes its residents, which are extremely wealthy condo owners. Also, there is someone involved in a bioterrorism of sorts aimed at eternal life and conquering of disease, I was not sure. Then there was an assassin? I say assassin because he is hired to kill people as well as having killed people for his own purposes. I felt like a lot of elements were just thrown in to reach out to everyone’s conception of scary. I think that is a huge undertaking to want to add enough variation in the scary elements to be scary to a wide audience. And lots of people get killed. And like in Ahlborn there is no sign that the cycle was really going to stop, that hell wasn’t going to bust loose again after 38 years passed.
The characters I cared most about were an autistic girl and a boy estranged from his father, bookish and not like typical boys but determined not to be a sissy. I cared about his saving her and Koontz did a great job of describing her. There were a lot of characters living in the house, mainly adults that were difficult to care anything about.
But I felt like I was slogging through this book and some of it felt pointless. It did not feel as tidy as Ahlborn’s weaving between times, characters and their overlapping vulnerabilities. I just wasn’t impressed. I am open to someone helping me see the point better. I can’t tell you my attention did not wander from some of the times I was listening to it and pushing to finish so I could start on something else. I am not going to pick up another Koontz anytime soon.
And I need to read some of the horror early masters, like listening to my Necronomicon and picking up that Lovecraft omnibus with the tiny thin pages off my shelf.
Next week…might have a less unified theme. I am working on some scary books that I have to think about how I will pull them together but I might not pull them together at all. And it will be the peak of Halloween festivities! And my beautiful son will have turned five years old on the 27th and I am loving this age best of all….
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