Louise doesn’t want to go home. Home is filled with memories of the past, and they’re not all warm and fuzzy. Speaking of warm and fuzzy, Louise is dreading opening the door to her mother’s vast puppet collection. Or facing the cabinets full of dolls staring back at her. But at the top of her list of things to avoid is her brother, Mark, the golden child who never grew up.
After a tragic accident kills both of their parents, Louise and Mark are forced to look in every nook and cranny of their childhood home. But they find some oddities. Multiple pairs of eyes follow them at every turn as they find a boarded up attic and life-sized dolls watching television…even though the television was unplugged. And at the center of it all is one raggedy puppet who has always taken on a life of his own- Pupkin.
When I first heard the title of this book I was expecting the same old take on a traditional ghoulish haunting. But as I began to read this book it took a different turn. In the hands of Grady Hendrix, a haunted house in South Carolina becomes the stuff of nightmares. Hendrix sets the scene with lengthy passages describing the spooky occurrences that happen. Normally I’m not a big fan of long narrative passages but in this case it works. Childhood trauma also plays a role in the backstory of Louise and Mark’s fraught relationship. But above it all, the question remains- what is reality and what is childhood imagination?
Prolific storyteller Neil Gaiman was born on this day 61 years ago. From short stories to graphic novels to nonfiction to screenplays, Gaiman has left no storytelling stone unturned. While a large swatch of his fan base are avid sci-fi and fantasy readers, Gaiman still has mass appeal. Children’s books, such as Coraline, have garnered an adult fan base. Films and television shows have been created based on his books and Gaiman has even written episodes for beloved series like Doctor Who.
Gaiman has written screeplays, produced films, and directed some too. He has an immense body of work with no signs of slowing down. The Sandman television series (based on Gaiman’s own DC Comics of the same name), a comic adaptation by Colleen Doran (from Gaiman’s Chivalry), and Miraclemancomics were all released this year.
No need to be overwhelmed, though! Here’s a list of offerings in every area Gaiman has his hands.
It may be considered a children’s book, but this creepy tale can be read at any age. Young Coraline and her parents move to a big, old house converted into apartments. Accompanied by an odd cast of characters, Coraline soon finds another world that is parallel to her own. While it seems perfect, it quickly becomes a nightmare Coraline must escape.
Gaiman, a master of dark fantasy and magical realism, has also proven his mastery of human connection. The narrator, returning to his town to attend a funeral, reminisces on a tragedy that he witnessed as a child. Sometimes recommended as a children’s book, this fares better for an adult reflecting on their childhood.
In addition to providing the source material, Gaiman was a writer and executive producer for this television series adaptation.
As New Gods gain prominence, the Old Gods worry they are becoming irrelevant. Shadow Moon, recently released from prison, becomes embroiled in this world of magic and the mission of uniting the Old Gods to rebuild their status.
The trick-or-treats haven’t started yet but it’s never too early to indulge in some spooky tales. Whether you fancy a recent thriller, a classic haunting, or creepy creatures, there are plenty of books to keep you sleeping with the lights on till next year.
If you like a fast-paced psychological thriller, explore some of these titles:
“A viciously funny thriller about wellness—the smoothies, the secrets, and the deliciously deadly impulses. Lifelong New Yorker Ronnie Khan never thought she’d leave Queens. She’s not an “aim high, dream big” person—until she meets socialite wellness guru Marley Dewhurst. But when the glam gurus around town start turning up gruesomely murdered, Ronnie has her answer: all is not well in wellness town. As Marley’s blind ambition veers into madness, Ronnie fears for her life.”
“Lives unravel amid the revelry on an eerie and remote island as family and friends assemble for a glam wedding in an updated Murder on the Orient Express. Each of the principal characters has a reason to want one of their number dead. The narcissistic bride, the unstable bridesmaid, the odd wedding planner and her husband, the resentful plus-one, the groom and his former schoolmates, who are revealed to be a pack of sadistic bullies. By the time the worst of them is found murdered, readers will not be sorry and might, in a Christie moment, have wanted to kill her or him themselves. This is one guest list no one would want to be on.”
“Paul Strom has the perfect life: a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in a wealthy suburb. And he’s the perfect husband: breadwinner, protector, provider. That’s why he’s planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them. And he’s promised today will be the best day ever.”
Interested in the classics? Here are a few to sink your teeth into:
“For those who still dream and remember, for those yet to experience the hypnotic power of its dark poetry, step inside. The show is about to begin. Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. Two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all too well the heavy cost of wishes…and the stuff of nightmares.”
“Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as its hero Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north from London to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and most dreadfully–and for Kipps most tragically–The Woman In Black.”
“Idealistic young scientist Henry Jekyll struggles to unlock the secrets of the soul. Testing chemicals in his lab, he drinks a mixture he hopes will isolate – and eliminate – human evil. Instead it unleashes the dark forces within him, transforming him into the hideous and murderous Mr. Hyde.”
Zombies, vampires, and clowns keep you up at night? Hope these aren’t too creepy for you…:
“If you’ve ever wondered what ingredients to use to create a zombie out of a living person, your search ends with this one-of-a-kind novel. “I died on the night of the most beautiful day of my life” so begins the testimony of Hadriana Siloé, a sensuous pale-skinned Creole woman who, on the Saturday evening of Jan. 29, 1938, collapses at her wedding altar. She had earlier taken a mysterious potion that induces living death. An icon of Haitian literature serves up a hotblooded, rib-ticking, warmhearted mélange of ghost story, cultural inquiry, folk art, and véritable l’amour.”
“Quinn and her father moved to tiny, boring Kettle Springs to find a fresh start. But ever since the Baypen Corn Syrup Factory shut down, Kettle Springs has cracked in half. The town is caught in a battle between old and new, tradition and progress. It’s a fight that looks like it will destroy the town. Until Frendo, the Baypen mascot, a creepy clown in a pork-pie hat, goes homicidal and decides that the only way for Kettle Springs to grow back is to cull the rotten crop of kids who live there now.”
“Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized. Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive? Or will the city devour them all?”
Every October I get the itch to pick up a book for spooky season. The only problem is that I’m a lifelong scaredy-cat. When it comes to horror movies or tv series, I can only handle small doses. But against all odds, I do enjoy reading an occasional spooky story. It all started when I picked up the classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Somehow those tales of horror and things that go bump in the night were less creepy if they were just words on a page.
If you’re looking for some spooky reads, here are a few recommendations. Just remember to read them with the lights on.
The only thing keeping Patricia Campbell sane is her book club, a close-knit group of Charleston women united by their love of true crime. One evening after book club, Patricia is viciously attacked by an elderly neighbor, bringing the neighbor’s handsome nephew, James Harris, into her life. James is well traveled and well read, and he makes Patricia feel things she hasn’t felt in years. But when children on the other side of town go missing, their deaths written off by local police, Patricia has reason to believe James Harris is more of a Bundy than a Brad Pitt. The real problem? James is a monster of a different kind–and Patricia has already invited him in.
This is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a ‘haunting’; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers – and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is discovered in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens–Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon have DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face?
You knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree. A dark imagination, a sinister smile–always on the outside of the group. Twenty-five years ago, Crabtree committed a murder so shocking that it’s attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet–and inspired more than one copycat. Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree–and his victim–were Paul’s friends. It’s not long before things start to go wrong. Paul learns that Detective Amanda Beck is investigating another copycat that has struck in the nearby town of Featherbank.
At the end of a dark prairie road, nearly forgotten in the Kansas countryside, is the Finch House. For years it has remained empty, overgrown, abandoned. When best-selling horror author Sam McGarver is invited to spend Halloween night in the house, he reluctantly agrees. At least he won’t be alone; joining him are three other masters of the macabre, writers who have helped shape modern horror. But what begins as a simple publicity stunt will become a fight for survival. The entity they have awakened will follow them, torment them, threatening to make them a part of the bloody legacy of Kill Creek.
It’s been some time since I read a novel that truly surprised me and Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street not only surprised me, it astonished me. This strikingly original, difficult, and heartfelt novel disguises itself as a horrific story about a serial killer and a missing child, leading readers down disturbing paths and in all the wrong directions as it slowly but surely reveals itself to be much more.
Told through the perspective of multiple narrators, we follow the life of Ted, a strange and lonely man who lives at the end of the forebodingly named Needless Street. He has boarded up all the windows in his house, which sits at the edge of a deeply wooded park and regularly hosts visits with his estranged daughter. His only friend appears to be his cat Olivia- who is also a narrative voice and is quite charming.
The tale opens on the anniversary of the disappearance of a young girl, a disappearance that Ted was initially suspected of causing, and we also meet the vengeful sister of the missing girl who is still trying to track down her sister’s potential murderer years later. This deeply layered plot is revealed little by little with each chapter, and keen readers will note right off the bat that all is not as it seems with each narrator, and we are clearly not getting a complete picture.
The final few twists of this novel are stunning, and absolutely heartbreaking, making this a standout novel of psychological horror, but also an emotional story of trauma and finally, and most importantly, hope. A detailed author’s note at the end further explains Ward’s excellent work on this story and why this is a very realistic tale of trauma. Highly recommended for fans of deeply woven mysteries, unreliable narrators, and psychological horror.
Note: There are some very upsetting and intense scenes in this novel, particularly depicting animal abuse and child abuse, so please proceed with this trigger warning in mind.
A Hawk in the Woods by Carrie Laben– A suspenseful, dark tale of family trauma, abuse of power, and the bonds of sisterhood that centers on supernaturally gifted twins Abby and Martha Waite and follows Abby’s choices after she discovers she has been diagnosed with late stage melanoma.
The Push by Ashley Audrain– A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family and one woman’s deeply affecting and difficult story of motherhood, womanhood, grief, and guilt.
Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith– Haunting and inspired, this novel looks at the stories of three women in Vietnam, weaving together Vietnamese folklore and themes of national and racial identity, women’s bodies and their burden, and sweet revenge.
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca– A standout novella featuring an interesting combination of atypical structure, beautiful writing, and body horror about two women who meet in a queer chat room. This book, and the ending in particular, will keep you thinking long after you finish this short work.
Betty by Tiffany McDaniel– Perhaps my most favorite book of the year, this heartbreaking and remarkable novel is inspired by the life of McDaniel’s own mother. Set in rural Ohio during the 50s, readers follow Betty Carpenter, as she endures terrible discrimination, violence, loss, and love in this luminous and often emotionally difficult book.
The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling– A beautifully written gothic romantic thriller with a dash of magic and horror. Drawing inspiration from such classics as Bluebeard and working the dangerous bridegroom trope, Starling delivers an engaging and tense tale.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo– A skillful and fantastical reimagining of The Great Gatsby that reimagines Jordan Baker as a queer Vietnamese immigrant, embellishing upon Fitzgerald’s original plot with commentary on gender, race, and sexuality, set in a magical Jazz Age New York.
My favorite time of year has arrived- Halloween season! We’ve got 10 days left until Halloween is here so you’ve got plenty of time to fit in some spooky movie nights with friends and family. Kanopy has shared their “Fright Fest” film selections and there are some really great options for you to stream at home. Don’t forget, Kanopy is an amazing media streaming service that gives you free access to top quality indie films, classics, and documentaries with your Rocky River Public Library card!
I’ve selected my top five terrifying recommendations for you to watch. Take a look below- if you dare.
This month I’ll be enjoying some vacation, including some stay-cationing at home, as well as doing some out-of-state traveling for the first time in a long time. I have a relatively short flight ahead, but we have some long layovers, so I was sure to load up my Kindle with ebooks and my phone with audiobooks from OverDrive to keep me occupied. Nothing is worse than being book-less at the airport! Take a look below to see what I’m currently reading this month.
In typical librarian fashion, I am always reading a book or two, in addition to having a plethora of books sitting in various to-be-read piles in my house. Back in the days of spending time at my library office desk, I would always keep a book there to read during my meal breaks (stares nostalgically out window thinking of my desk…). Of course, now that I’m home most of the time I keep a book in the dining room to read during lunch breaks. There is always a book on my night stand (usually my Kindle hangs out there) as well and a book on my coffee table, so I’m prepared for reading at all times. Take a look below to see what I’m currently reading and what I have lined up for the next couple months!
I was so excited to snag an ARC of this book from NetGalley! I’m only about halfway through but it is great so far. After escaping a dangerously strict religious compound, where she was forced to marry the nefarious leader Reverend Sherman, teenage Vern escapes to the woods pregnant and alone. She gives birth to twins in the forest and tries her best to survive the harsh realities of this isolated life, all the while being pursued by a mysterious fiend, odd hallucinations, and experiencing uncanny changes in her body and abilities.
You can read a full review of this novel from my colleague Shannon by clicking here!
Collecting issues #6-10 of this horror comic series, readers catch up with monster killer Erica Slaughter after she has slain the beast who was terrorizing the small town of Archer’s Peak. The only problem is that the monster had babies and now they are loose in the town. A mysterious man from The House of Slaughter arrives (is this the monster slayer version of a Watcher?) to help clean up the mess but seems to make matters worse.
I am not usually an audiobook person, but every once in a while I check out an audiobook on Hoopla to listen to while I’m in the kitchen. I adore Shirley Jackson but have yet to read all her short stories and this audiobook has been a joy to listen to. Humorous, dark, and sometimes tragic, this powerful collection of haunting stories is read by a variety of voice actors making for an interesting and engaging experience.
For the past twelve years, February has been celebrated as Women in Horror Month, a topic very near and dear to my heart. According to the Women in Horror Month website, “Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre.” WiHM aims to help horror works by and featuring women reach a wider audience. This inclusive and positive movement is open to everyone, of course, just as they believe the horror genre should be open to everyone.
WiHM recently announced that as of March 1, 2021 there will no longer be an official WiHM organization, but that they have found there is more than enough content, traffic, and engagement to bring this celebration to communities year round. So, Women in Horror Month might look different moving forward as everyone is now encouraged to choose their own month to celebrate, but I look forward to seeing the creativity and innovation from this community in the years to come!
You can take a look at events going on around the country celebrating WiHM here. Two events I was particularly excited about this month are the “Females of Fright: Zoom Edition” live author panels, both offered for free, thanks to the Horror Writer’s Association! The first panel took place on Friday, February 12th but luckily you can watch it on the HWA’s YouTube channel here. The first panel included Zoje Stage, author of Wonderland, which just so happens to be the next title up for discussion in our Novel Scares book club. Interested in joining us on March 18th to discuss this great creepy novel? Sign up here! The next “Females of Fright” panel is Friday, February 26th at 8 pm (EST) and you can register here.