Scary Reads! Haunted Houses II

And here we are in the first weekend of October.  My son got my husband to start decorating the house on Tuesday for the holiday.  It started with being allowed to just get out bins to see what we have to those bins being emptied and my husband further outlining his artistic vision for the venture.  Trees are changing too, more than I noticed before.

Like I said last week, the haunted houses reads were meant to scrape out the TBR.  Every year I make a list of books I already have that could get read for that season’s round and I am experiencing a certain extra level of satisfaction about putting checkmarks next to books that keep going on the list because they had not been read yet.

Spoiler alert:  TBR reading will be a big part of the blog next year.

But onto the second haunted house books post!

One of the few things I love more than a scary book that is getting crossed off the TBR is a scary epistolary book!  Piecing together the story behind a haunting lends itself well to many different sources and viewpoints being shared in the course of the novel.  Both of these haunted house books were pieced together through various viewpoints that become apparent as the novel moves forward.   Like I said in my last post, it’s about the story behind the haunting, not just the spirit activity that is enthralling.  

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The Supernatural Enhancements, Edgar Cantero

A man and his friend move into a mansion that he inherited from an uncle he didn’t know. He starts immediately with the dreams and the intense occurrences, from haunting to break ins.  They have to piece together both what is going on with the house and the secret activity that went on inside it during his uncle’s life. This has a more in depth plot than a re enacted tragedy by a ghost, it also is about a secret society that stumbles upon a wonder of the world and dedicate themselves to a game to discover its secrets and the messages it is trying to give.  Lots of twisty turns in this one to keep you guessing.

So this was on my TBR forever and kept missing the scary reads train, and I have to admit that some of it was due to not being on audio.  Books I can easily get on audio are the ones that get consumed first, especially with a cozy feel to them. But when I realized this was epistolary novel, I got right to it.  Snippets of information from everyone’s perspective is addicting to me, probably because it’s similar to my job as a child therapist that I love. No problems blowing through the backlit pages while nestled in my bed at night.  I also liked that it wasn’t just about ghosts and they find an explanation for the dreams as well as the story behind the haunting. There is a whole game, a whole secret society of the rich, a guarded secret. The characters were interesting and their relationships were ambiguous, the surprising events unfolded at a decent pace.  It was absorbing, and I let it go unread way too long.

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The Ghost Notebooks, Ben Dolnick

Nick and Hannah are recently engaged and move into a museum in upstate New York with a shady past, where Hannah has accepted a job as curator.  They move from the crowds of NYC to the isolation of a made up town near Poughkeepsie. As they live there, the woman is consumed in the house and tragedy strikes.  Her fiance becomes consumed in figuring out the details of how this museum led her to her demise.

Another one that just grabbed me and kept me going, one that I was also ambivalent about until I discovered the information comes in pieces from other sources. I actually had read half of this before having to make a drive and bought the audio with three hours to go because I didn’t want to stop reading it to drive. The mystery is compounded by the secrets that Hannah holds of her psychiatric past, and that the perspective isn’t always hers in the story. The mystery does get resolved, the layers tied up, and I always prefer that in scary stories (although we know based on my love of Ania Ahlborn that I don’t always require it). It was well written and astute.

I lived in and near Poughkeepsie for a year, and I know that it can be strangely country and isolated in some places, while being close to a giant city.  It also has its pockets of urbanity, but that’s not the setting for this story. I liked downstate. I wish I enjoyed it more while I was there, but I was distracted with figuring out the next steps of my life.  It’s an interesting setting for a story with a couple looking to change up their lives from the hustle and bustle of NYC.

The only part of this that was a little off to me was the pacing. A chunk of the action happens in the first half, and it’s not a long book so it goes along at a clip.  I didn’t expect the tragedy as soon as it came along. I knew Hannah was unraveling but she kept it fairly to herself. But then there seems to be a long stretch when Nick is trying to make sense of everything where it slows right down.  Maybe this was intentional; often, when we urgently need answers to something it can feel like moving through jello to answer our questions, especially when people are trying to protect their secrets and not allow us access to the answers we need.  I don’t regret buying an audiobook to listen to half. Love my ghosty reads, especially ones with complicated relationships and reaches into the past. Recommend this too.

Next week I will be reviewing books about supernatural creatures.  Not witches, as this year I didn’t read about them, unless you count my post about Day of the Dead for witches.   I love witches, so much I can connect to about them, but this year it ended up being ghosts and hauntings and creatures, and that deserves some love too.  It can’t  be all witchy reads!

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Scary Reads! Haunted Houses

I mean, October starts this week, so it’s totally time.  My husband will allow my son to drag out the Halloween decorations on Tuesday that he has been begging to do, and he wanted to get a pumpkin at the Farmer’s Market instead of homemade baked goods, so, it’s time. The fall loving child I inadvertently grew.

Although it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have a child who loves all things creepy (to a point.  He’s not allowed adult level scary things) when I have been beefing up big time on scary books to present on here for the next few weeks.  When in August the reads begin!

The scary reads series 2019 this year will begin with two posts on haunted house books. There are too many good haunted house books that have had to miss my Scary Reads lineup in the past, and this year I tried to read more of what has been waiting on the TBR, rather than getting too far into the new stuff.   Two of the books in these posts have been waiting altogether too long to be read and discussed on the annual Scary Reads series.

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A Haunted Love Story:  Ghosts of Allen House, Mark Spencer

This is a true ghost story of a family who willingly buy (wrangle from the previous owner) a home that is well known to be haunted.  There is ghostly activity, like doppelganger spirits, but it’s mostly about the story of the family that would lead to such curious imprinting and activity.  The family chooses to open its doors to tourism because the house is so well known in its legend and the previous owner had closed it off to the public. Underneath everything is a tragic story.

I think I love haunted house stories because who doesn’t love a good story?  I can watch hours of ghost hunting television because it’s always about the story.  If you’re someone that’s in it for the story more than the creeps and chills, then this is for you.  I took it right in. If you need a lot of horror and scare, this might not be for you. Maybe it’s the same for ghost shows versus horror films, where people walk around with EVP readers for little whispers rather than like, scary crap shutting you in the cellar and trying to eat you alive or something.  The drama comes from the story, not from the haunting. And the story is only truly figured out at the very end, when the narrator finds a hidden packet of letters.

The weirdest part to me of the whole thing, actually, was the behavior of the woman they bought the house from.  She was strangely over attached to the house and was gamey about letting it go and she lived there alone, albeit filled with Christian religious items, like pictures of Jesus. I wondered how she interacted with or felt about the spirits in her home.  They were legendary and acted up when the new family came in, but what about with her? I was so curious as to her attachment and experiences with the house, but we never get them. So strange.  It’s a good cheap kindle read.

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The Woman in Black, Susan Hill

A Gothic novel about a haunted house, deserted on the moors, a spectre motivated to haunt a town and a home by a tragic life. A lawyer travels out to the house to get papers in order following the house mistress’ death and finds a town unwilling to tell him the truth about the place. He goes about his business the best he can, but not without unraveling the mystery while getting in on some of the action on the curse of the town.

This is so well written in the Gothic tradition that I didn’t know it was only written as recently as 1983. I thought it was old enough to be in the public domain.  So well done. The scary old house isolated by a marsh, a terrible, unpredictable mist, a ghost that doesn’t waste any time making herself known to the newbie. Totes my thing.  Victorian tragedy, insidious haunting activity, a tragic story revealed. It wasn’t all that long, either, so I finished it in about 24 hours. Of the second week vacation of my summer, of course.  Not really in the throes of my job that decided to notch up the crazy this summer. Also worth a read, even though fictionalized, not a true story like the Allen House book.  I hope I remember to look into the movie and try to see the main character not as a wand wielding eleven year old.  I’m sometimes awful at getting to movies/shows based on books.

Next week will be the second haunted houses post for Scary reads. Seasonal creeptasticness.

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Summer of Shorts 2: The Bloody Chamber and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

Week Two in my summer of shorts.  Have I mentioned my deep and abiding love of summer?

I spent this week off, taking my son to a local camp programming robots to ease up the Mom guilt of working year round and my son asking me why I do that, and my honest response of not being able to be home all day every day and be happy.  My middle ground is taking more time off in the summer to be with him and do things with him.  I’m trying to paste together an excellent childhood for him, which would be impossible if I didn’t go to work most of the 18 years that he is with me.

I work with kids and I know that most of the memories they reference when asked what their favorite memories are are the small things.  A time when a parent showed up to something.  Day trips, sports games.  But I still want to do the most I can with the time I have.   Maybe this has amplified with the crazy developmental strides I have seen in my son this year.  Right now he’s cutting his own nails without my asking or prompting him.

But the shorts I am talking about today don’t have much to do with my pervasive mom guilt.  I enjoyed them more than the two books I reviewed in last week’s post, and they had both been long time TBR hangers, which is partly the purpose of dedicating a month of summer reading to short forms.

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The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Angela Carter

This is a series of re-imagined fairy tales with a decidedly Gothic and romantic/sexual spin on them.  Carter also adds a significant dash of horror in there. I can see how fairy tales are a blank slate of sorts, a skeleton plot on which to project any theme desired, spin it in any sort of way.

I like fairytale retellings, and I love a Gothic feminist spin. The tone was set by the first story, Bluebeard, which unspooled a terrible and beautiful, enchanting Gothic tale. I only listened to this on audio and it would have been helpful to have it in print form, because sometimes I didn’t know if a story had changed into a different story or the same one from another perspective/narrator.  It would have been good to check where one ended and another began in a few instances.  Sometimes the beasts felt like they overlapped.

The narration was haunting, the retelling and the new spins enchanting.  Themes of inequality between the sexes and the precarious way women had to live in those times were pervasive in the narratives.  Lots of blood in many forms:  death, first menses, virginity/sexuality.   Transporting and for how long it’s been waiting for me to devour it, it was worth the long range eyeball.

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What is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi

A collection of tales, some that felt with a tinge of supernatural/magical realism to me (never a bad thing with me unless involving weird sexuality) all having a key involved.  The key isn’t to the same thing every time, and the key is often the entrance to another layer of story rather than the end/resolution to the story.  Keys are mentioned in the blurb but I actually had not read the blurb and I went back to it after about halfway through, maybe not even that far, noticing yet another key while listening to the narration of stories.

I feel vindicated in that other Goodreads reviewers mentioned that these tales are weird, disorienting, and would need a second pass over to collect all the bits.  It is truly a writer whose stories do that much to a reader, turn us upside down and wonder if we had missed something.  They would end abruptly too, and I would go back to my kindle version to be sure the story actually ended and another one had started.  Of course the narrators were different but often I was like wait did that one from before truly resolve enough to be considered done?   Other readers commented that the ends of the stories lacked an umph or a satisfaction for them, too, wondering if they had missed something.

Probably the story that resonated the most with me was Presence.  I don’t know if it is because the main characters are psychologists and one works with children and I could relate more in this aspect. Initially I bristled at the main character being a Psychologist but also on her third marriage and in her own treatment.  It’s not that we don’t need treatment, it just initially made me wonder why she was a little dysfunctional and in a healing profession, until Oyeyemi goes into her past as an adopted child, as well as her husband being an adopted childhood friend, and all the issues that come with that.  But then they test out a method he is using to help grieving people that ends up being haunting, weird, and capitalizing on connections that she had been missing from her life. Like I said, all the stories are a little disorienting and this one was not different, but it was also heartbreaking.

I have seen calls for submissions that want work reminiscent of Oyeyemi, and I don’t know if I have it in me as a writer to extend myself so loosely into the world like she can do. White Is For Witching was lovely but loose as well.  I do my monthly short story with the writing group I love but I haven’t been able to creep out to such dimensions.  I think I need to read more Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link, both of whose works I have sitting on my Kindle.

Summer of shorts continues into next week.  I think I could be taking more risks with my own writing of shorts.  It probably means I need to be writing more.  Isn’t that always the solution?  The hidden answer to everything?

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Backlist of a Hoarded Author

In a full disclosure moment, I’m still eating down the Easter candy that I bought too much of.  Not as much as last year, but my son doesn’t care about jellybeans in enough proportion to the amount that I buy.

I’m going to justify this with the amount of darkness that I seem to have read since finishing my sweet two little cozies. Yeah, people died and disappeared, etc but it wasn’t like, carnage.

I decided to read some of Ania Ahlborn’s backlist for that.

I thought she was self-published.  I swear that Seed, her first book, was self published before Amazon picked her up.  I didn’t realize the remainder of her books were Amazon’s presses, that dance low priced delicious books before our eyes.

Self-published can be difficult to determine, especially with all the author services nowadays that you can pay for yourself rather than a publishing house.  I’ve had some bad experiences with some self published stuff, but that’s not the norm for me anymore.  I discovered her through Amazon’s marketing and I’ve loved her since.

I’m currently reading the actual self-published books that qualify for the BookRiot category.  Also not disappointing so far, but decidedly lighter than my decision to spend a week reading/listening to two of her horror stories back to back, as well as sneaking in a line jumper that hurtled itself into my arms at the library which is also depressing.

See?  I need all the jellybeans.  All of them.

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The Shuddering, Ania Ahlborn

A bunch of friends get together for a last hurrah weekend in a family chateau before the chateau officially changes hands.  Before the brother of a twin pair is taking off on a new adventure that will pull him away from his sweet, do the right thing second grade teacher sister in the throes of a divorce.  Before his best friend and her ex boyfriend moves forward into a new life, sealing their long ago but still raw breakup against a reunion.  And the forest is full of intelligent, never before seen, people eating nightmare monsters.

I don’t know how I forgot that she never has happy endings.  I won’t spoil it more than that, but it’s not that much of a spoiler when it’s a hallmark of her books.  This is gory and gruesome, grosser I think than the other four of her books I have read (although I read The Bird Eater and Seed quite a time ago), I can’t be sure.  I liked the rhythm.  It moved right along between horror and the story, the characters making close calls against the monsters before actually coming in contact with them, but she already described other people’s encounters with them so you knew what they did before the characters you truly came to care about came in contact with them.  I found myself sitting in the parking lot at work, listening when I should have been going in, bingeing because I wanted to know how it was going to turn out.

I just took an online course in looking at horror in more depth, (I’ve been learning about all genres in internet course I have been buying lately, but that can’t be a bad thing) and I was looking at how the motives of the characters intertwined with the monsters.  And how the monsters devastated the characters.  Her horror (good horror) sets up achingly vulnerable people against scary and impossible odds and yet you root for them the whole time.  I definitely enjoyed this.  Even though it wrecked me.  Because I have not read a single book of hers that resolves the horror.  Not a one.

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The Neighbors, Ania Ahlborn

A man moves in with a roommate to escape the oppressive and dead end life he was living with his alcoholic, agoraphobic mother, and finds a much scarier secret in the neighbors next door, who fix to entrap him in their nefarious ends.

This is the only one of hers I have read without a supernatural element.  Through the beginning I was waiting to see what these neighbors truly were.  Nefarious neighbors scheming under the veil of perfection made me think they were probably the devil, as he tends to show up dressed as everything you could ever wish for, and these people were certainly that. But they are human.  They became dark from the disappointments/hurts/traumas in their own lives.

This is not the entire reason why I felt this one missed the mark.  Not as spot on as her others. I thought the character’s motivations could be a little stronger, but I know that’s a hard element to hammer out. It’s not as gory, not as visceral (meant both ways there haha) as her other books.  It even resolved more, to me at least, than her other books tended to, and that didn’t even make up for it. It didn’t grab me and hang on the same way.  Maybe a more supernatural element would have helped up the ante.  I don’t know.

I am also starting to notice she’s a real music lover.  That part of her personality is seeping into her books.  She writes intelligently about music and what it means to her characters.  Very cool.

I still need to read Brother, The Pretty Ones, The Devil Crept In, I Call Upon Thee, and Apart in the Dark.  And the one she has coming out in the fall.  She’s talented and she knows how to sink her story talons into my brain.

I’ll make sure I have an abundance of some kind of comfort food if I do this to myself again.

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