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The Cabinet of Curiosities:
36 Tales Brief & Sinister
by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, and Emma Trevayne;
illus. by Alexander Jansson
Middle School Greenwillow 488 pp.
6/14 978-0-06-233105-2 $16.99
Four “curators” — Bachmann, Catmull, Legrand, and Trevayne — travel to lands peregrine and outré to fill their Cabinet of Curiosities museum, sending back grotesqueries and objects of wonder as well as the tales behind them — tales that often bend to the tenebrous and unearthly. The table of contents lists the Cabinet’s “rooms” and “drawers,” each with a theme (cake, luck, tricks, flowers) and four or five tales to explore. In “The Cake Made Out of Teeth” (“collected by” Legrand) a spoiled-rotten boy must finish an entire cake made in his image, despite the sensation of teeth chewing him up with every bite. “Lucky, Lucky Girl” (Catmull) stars a young woman whose good luck seems to depend on the very bad luck of the people around her. In “Plum Boy and the Dead Man” (Bachmann), a rich and opinionated lad has a conversation with a corpse hanging from a tree…and ends up unwillingly changing places with the victim. “The Book of Bones” (Trevayne) features Eleanor Entwhistle, a plucky girl whose courage halts the work of a grave-robbing sorcerer. The stories are remarkable both for their uniformly high quality and for their distinctness from one another; the abundant atmospherics, including occasional stark black-and-white illustrations, provide a unifying sense of dread. The framing device — the curators send letters from the field introducing their latest discoveries — adds depths of mystery, danger, and idiosyncrasy to a book already swimming in each.
People have enjoyed the horror genre for centuries, reveling in the spooky, toe-curling, hair-raising feelings this genre elicits — perfect for Halloween. Whether you’re trick-or-treating, attending a costume party, or staying home, we’ve put together a list of Oxford World’s Classics that will put you in the mood for this eerie night.
“The Vampyre”, a gothic horror that’s sure to push you to the edge of your seat, is considered the first to incorporate a vampire into fiction. And that’s just one of the many squeamish stories in store; from a bloodthirsty vampire to obsessive revenge, let the ghastly atmosphere overwhelm you with this collection of stories.
Follow the terrifying story of a young man whose descent into madness leads into a life as a serial murderer. In the second half of the novel, the murderer tells his side of the story, revealing his true madness. This psychologically unnerving novel will probably leave you sleepless. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Perhaps a story about an arranged marriage wouldn’t garner the usual horror fan’s interest. But after nearly (and unknowingly) being stabbed by her jealous stepmother, the protagonist escapes from the arrange marriage into the labyrinth of the passages underneath Sicilian castles. With Ann Radcliffe’s weaving of psychological terror in a gothic setting, this is a perfect book to lose yourself in while (perhaps accidentally) ignoring the trick-or-treaters at your door.
In a story highlighting the horrors that humans can wreak upon one another, Marlow (the narrator in the story) tells of his experience in Africa and of his witnessing Kurtz’s descent into power hunger and madness. The dark themes present throughout Heart of Darkness will sit at the forefront of your mind, an ever-present reminder that humans can be just as frightful as any monster.
The first story in this four-piece collection is the horrifying story that tells of a doctor conducting experiments that cause him to transform into a violent, murderous man. Is Hyde really a separate “being”? Or is he simply Jekyll unleashed from the confines of moral society…? This classic story is bound to find its way on the list, and with a number of other chilling short stories by Robert Louis Stevenson in this book, you can’t lose.
You’ll claw your way out of being buried alive in The Room in the Dragon Volant. Or you’ll go mad as a demon haunts you with the intent of destroying you psychologically in Green Tea. With supernatural creatures and nightmarish circumstances, this collection of five short stories will highlight any horror lover’s Halloween.
Headline image: Caw! Caw! Photo by Wayne Wilkinson. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.
"Review My Books" Review by J
by Bethany Griffin
Hardcover: 432 pagesPublisher: Greenwillow Books (October 7, 2014)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon
Madeline Usher has been buried alive. The doomed heroine comes to the fore in this eerie reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe's classic short story "The Fall of the House of Usher." Gothic, moody, and suspenseful from beginning to end, The
With Halloween just one week away, we’re getting into the spirit of the season with these 13 quotes on the writing life from famous authors of horror, thriller and suspense:
1. “So where do the ideas—the salable ideas—come from? They come from my nightmares. Not the night-time variety, as a rule, but the ones that hide just beyond the doorway that separates the conscious from the unconscious.” —Stephen King, “The Horror Writer Market and the Ten Bears,” November 1973, WD
2. “The first thing you have to know about writing is that it is something you must do everyday. There are two reasons for this rule: Getting the work done and connecting with your unconscious mind.” —Walter Mosley
3. “I hope people are reading my work in the future. I hope I have done more than frightened a couple of generations. I hope I’ve inspired a few people one way or another.” —Richard Matheson
4. “When one is writing a novel in the first person, one must be that person.” —Daphne du Maurier
5. “When I write, I try to think back to what I was afraid of or what was scary to me, and try to put those feelings into books.” —R.L. Stine
6. “[Horror fiction] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.” —Clive Barker
7. “Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem.” —Edgar Allan Poe
8. “I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from there.” —Shirley Jackson
9. “Writing is writing, and stories are stories. Perhaps the only true genres are fiction and nonfiction. And even there, who can be sure?” —Tanith Lee
10. “I always wanted to be in the world of entertainment. I just love the idea of an audience being happy with what I am doing. Writing is showbusiness for shy people. That’s how I see it.” —Lee Child
11. “I don’t think there is enough respect in general for the time it takes to write consistently good fiction. Too many people think they will master writing overnight, or that they are as good as they will ever be.” —Tananarive Due
12. “What I love about the thriller form is that it makes you write a story. You can’t get lost in your own genius, which is a dangerous place for writers. You don’t want to ever get complacent. If a book starts going too well, I usually know there’s a problem. I need to struggle. I need that self-doubt. I need to think it’s not the best thing ever.” —Harlan Coben, WD Interview, January 2011
13. “My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature.” —H.P. Lovecraft
October conjures up images of crackling fires, shivering leaves, the grinning teeth of a jack-o-lantern … and, if you’re a fan of classic horror, that iconic, fanged master of the night, Count Dracula. We feel there’s no better time than October—National Dracula Month—to share some writing tips and techniques that authors can learn from Dracula and apply to their own horror stories.
As you read this excerpt from chapter one of Dracula, try reading Bram Stoker’s text first, and then go back and read it again, this time pausing to digest the annotations from Mort Castle, in red.
Thirsty for more? Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics: Dracula, by Bram Stoker with annotations by Mort Castle, is available now! More than just an annotated version of the novel, this edition presents sharply focused, valuable techniques for writers who want to learn more about the techniques Bram Stoker used—and why he applied them.
JONATHAN HARKER’S JOURNAL
(Kept in shorthand) 
That Harker’s diary is kept in “shorthand” immediately reveals something of the man’s personality: With shorthand, he can record his impressions rapidly. Even a modern, ultra-fast-paced, totally plot-driven thriller has to have some characterization by finding small ways to provide “a bit of character” such as this.
3 May. Bistritz.—Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning;  should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. I feared to go very far from the station, as we had arrived late and would start as near the correct time as possible. The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East; the most western of splendid bridges over the Danube, which is here of noble width and depth, took us among the traditions of Turkish rule. 
Stoker, had he been writing in our era, might well have launched Dracula far later into the story at a much more dramatic moment, giving us, perhaps, Harker’s escape from Castle Dracula.
Television and films frequently use a technique called in medias res, starting “in the middle of things” (from the Latin) in order to hook the audience. Then, with the hook set, the writer fills in, usually via flashback, what readers need to know to get back to “the middle of things.” (More about flashbacks later.) Modern fiction writers have latched onto this technique. Beginning writers often begin way before the true beginning of the action. It is a typical flaw. What Stoker gives us here is almost in medias res; while there is no great dramatic action, Harker is placed in a physical location at a specific time. We know he is a traveling man, and we sense that he is a man on a mission. After all, he is concerned about the trains running on time. He has, we sense, places to go, people to see, things to do.
The narrative arc of the story has just about commenced.
Observe, writer, an absolutely masterful transition. Transitions get characters (and readers) from “there” to “here,” from “then” to “now.” It is easy to mess up transitions by thinking it necessary to detail every moment/movement between “there” and “here” and “then” and “now.” That is simply not so.
It will keep the story moving to simply write the equivalent of: He took the bus across town. This is Stoker transitioning a la “took the bus across town,” and it offers something more than a movement between locales: It shows Harker’s journey from the familiar Western European locales to the exotic East.
We left in pretty good time, and came after nightfall to Klausenburgh. Here I stopped for the night at the Hotel Royale. I had for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem. get recipe for Mina.) I asked the waiter, and he said it was called “paprika hendl,” and that, as it was a national dish, I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians. I found my smattering of German very useful here, indeed, I don’t know how I should be able to get on without it.
 It is with Harker’s little note to self that he begins to really come alive. This little note of domesticity reveals much of just who Husbandly Harker is. We start to like him because we are getting to know him.
A well-developed fictional character is someone who is every bit as alive and just as unique an individual as anyone we know—really well—out here in RealityLand. When a character is well done, we get to know the character so well that we like or dislike, love or hate him.
Having had some time at my disposal when in London, I had visited the British Museum, and made search among the books and maps in the library regarding Transylvania;  it had struck me that some foreknowledge of the country could hardly fail to have some importance in dealing with a nobleman of that country. I find that the district he named is in the extreme east of the country, just on the borders of three states, Transylvania, Moldavia, and Bukovina, in the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe. I was not able to light on any map or work giving the exact locality of the Castle Dracula, as there are no maps of this country as yet to compare with our own Ordnance Survey Maps; but I found that Bistritz, the post town named by Count Dracula, is a fairly well-known place. I shall enter here some of my notes, as they may refresh my memory when I talk over my travels with Mina.
Time to bring it out, this Ancient Commandment for All Writers: Write what you know.
You might be thinking: But Bram Stoker never visited Transylvania.
And if a writer doesn’t know it, he or she must conduct research. We must therefore assume Stoker, like Harker, did serious research—research on a deeper level than might be provided even by that respected canon of our time, Wikipedia. It’s credibility that is at stake. (At stake … sorry. Can’t help it!) You never want your reader to think that you, the author, do not know what you are writing about.
In the population of Transylvania there are four distinct nationalities: Saxons in the South, and mixed with them the Wallachs, who are the descendants of the Dacians; Magyars in the West, and Szekelys in the East and North. I am going among the latter, who claim to be descended from Attila and the Huns. This may be so, for when the Magyars conquered the country in the eleventh century they found the Huns settled in it. I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool; if so my stay may be very interesting. (Mem., I must ask the Count all about them.)
With the derisive word superstition, Harker reveals himself again as a sober and reasonable man. He’s preparing us for his becoming royally unhinged not so long from now. This is foreshadowing, albeit done in a subtle manner.
Effective foreshadowing can give readers the feeling of “uh-oh” long before a character has any such feeling. It can therefore contribute to the mood of a scene and build suspense.
I did not sleep well, though my bed was comfortable enough, for I had all sorts of queer dreams. There was a dog howling all night under my window, which may have had something to do with it; or it may have been the paprika, for I had to drink up all the water in my carafe, and was still thirsty. Towards morning I slept and was wakened by the continuous knocking at my door, so I guess I must have been sleeping soundly then. I had for breakfast more paprika, and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was “mamaliga”, and egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they call “impletata”. (Mem., get recipe for this also.) I had to hurry breakfast, for the train started a little before eight, or rather it ought to have done so, for after rushing to the station at 7:30 I had to sit in the carriage for more than an hour before we began to move. It seems to me that the further east you go the more unpunctual are the trains. What ought they to be in China?
Queer dreams = Foreshadowing again. These are unusual dreams, somewhat disconcerting dreams, strange dreams … they are not horrible dreams that bring on sweats and shrieks. Were Harker to be in such an elevated emotional state at this early point in the narrative, it would be nearly impossible to build to the sustained claustrophobically smothering terror that falls upon him when he becomes the Count’s guest/prisoner.
A fundamental writing rule: Show, don’t tell. If your words put a picture on the reader’s mental movie screen, you are following the rule. If you evoke a sensory response in the reader, you engage the reader.
Author David Morrell advises in any significant scene—that is, one meant to be memorable and not just “something happens”—that it’s a good idea to come up with three sensory triggers.
All day long we seemed to dawdle through a country which was full of beauty of every kind. Sometimes we saw little towns or castles on the top of steep hills such as we see in old missals; sometimes we ran by rivers and streams which seemed from the wide stony margin on each side of them to be subject to great floods. It takes a lot of water, and running strong, to sweep the outside edge of a river clear. At every station there were groups of people, sometimes crowds, and in all sorts of attire. Some of them were just like the peasants at home or those I saw coming through France and Germany, with short jackets, and round hats, and home-made trousers; but others were very picturesque. The women looked pretty, except when you got near them, but they were very clumsy about the waist. They had all full white sleeves of some kind or other, and most of them had big belts with a lot of strips of something fluttering from them like the dresses in a ballet, but of course there were petticoats under them. The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who were more barbarian than the rest, with their big cow-boy hats, great baggy dirty-white trousers, white linen shirts, and enormous heavy leather belts, nearly a foot wide, all studded over with brass nails. They wore high boots, with their trousers tucked into them, and had long black hair and heavy black moustaches. They are very picturesque, but do not look prepossessing. On the stage they would be set down at once as some old Oriental band of brigands. They are, however, I am told, very harmless and rather wanting in natural self-assertion.
It was on the dark side of twilight when we got to Bistritz, which is a very interesting old place. Being practically on the frontier—for the Borgo Pass leads from it into Bukovina—it has had a very stormy existence, and it certainly shows marks of it. Fifty years ago a series of great fires took place, which made terrible havoc on five separate occasions. At the very beginning of the seventeenth century it underwent a siege of three weeks and lost 13,000 people, the casualties of war proper being assisted by famine and disease. 
One more splendid transition. There is not a wasted word here, yet Harker and readers travel from 8:30 in the morning until past twilight, from Klausenberg to Bistritz.
Count Dracula had directed me to go to the Golden Krone Hotel, which I found, to my great delight, to be thoroughly old-fashioned, for of course I wanted to see all I could of the ways of the country. I was evidently expected, for when I got near the door I faced a cheery-looking elderly woman in the usual peasant dress—white undergarment with a long double apron, front, and back, of coloured stuff fitting almost too tight for modesty. When I came close she bowed and said, “The Herr Englishman?” “Yes,” I said, “Jonathan Harker.”
She smiled, and gave some message to an elderly man in white shirtsleeves, who had followed her to the door. He went, but immediately returned with a letter—
“My friend.—Welcome to the Carpathians. I am anxiously expecting you. Sleep well tonight. At three tomorrow the diligence will start for Bukovina; a place on it is kept for you. At the Borgo Pass my carriage will await you and will bring you to me. I trust that your journey from London has been a happy one, and that you will enjoy your stay in my beautiful land.
 Here Stoker chooses to use subtle irony. Whatever Dracula is, he is no friend to Harker. As a writer, you can do a lot with irony. For example, how many patients likely heard Hannibal Lecter say he wanted to help them?
Rachel Randall is the managing editor of Writer’s Digest Books. Her favorite holiday is Halloween.
These are the songs that wake me up, take me out of my worries and anxieties, wash my brain cells, and send me to the keyboard to write with new vigor. 1. "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi This is a song I associate with my beloved vampire hero, Lestat, today. I imagine Lestat loving [...]
The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Library]
I loved, loved, LOVED Jonathan Auxier's The Night Gardener. It may just be my favorite new book published in 2014. I loved so many things about it: the atmospheric setting, the creepy world-building, the storytelling, the writing, and the characterization. (Yes, those overlap, I imagine.) I could just say that I loved all the elements of this one; that I loved it absolutely from cover to cover. (Which does more justice for the book?)
Here's how the story opens. I'm curious if it will grab you like it did me!
The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October. A crisp sun shone over Cellar Hollow, melting the final bits of ice from the bare trees. Steam rose from the soil like a phantom, carrying with it a whisper of autumn smoke that had been lying dormant in the frosty underground. Squinting through the trees, you could just make out the winding path that ran from the village all the way to the woods in the south. People seldom traveled in that direction, but on this March-morning-that-felt-like-October, a horse and cart rattled down the road. It was a fish cart with a broken back wheel and no fish. Riding atop the bench were two children, a girl and a boy, both with striking red hair. The girl was named Molly, and the boy, her brother, was Kip. And they were riding to their deaths. This, at least, was what Molly had been told by no fewer than a dozen people as they traveled from farm to farm in search of the Windsor estate.
I loved Molly and Kip. It wasn't that either protagonist was perfect. It was that I felt both were oh-so-human. These two do find the Windsor estate. And they do manage to stay on as help. Even though they don't necessarily receive wages--just room and board. This country estate is...well, I don't want to spoil it. But the people who warned them to stay away from the estate, from the sour woods, well they had good intentions. The book is creepy in all the right ways. It is a WONDERFUL read if you love rich, detailed storytelling.
I also loved Hester Kettle. She is the old woman--Kip thought she was a witch at first glance--who tells them the directions to the estate. She also proves to be a friend and kindred spirit. She is, like Molly, a story-teller.
Hester touched the button, "Funny things, wishes. You can't hold'em in your hand, and yet just one could unmake the world." She looked up at Molly. (214)
"You asked me for a story; now you call it a lie." She folded her arms. "So tell me, then: What marks the difference between the two?" Agitated as she was, Molly couldn't help but consider the question. It was something she had asked herself in one form or another many times in her life. Still, Molly could tell the difference between the two as easily as she could tell hot from cold--a lie put a sting in her throat that made the words catch. It had been some time, however, since she had felt that sting. "A lie hurts people," she finally answered. "A story helps 'em." "True enough! But helps them do what?" She wagged a finger. "That's the real question..." (214)
I loved the story. I loved the pacing. It was a great read!!! Definitely recommended!
I enjoyed Alison Kemper’s Donna of the Dead, so when I saw Dead Over Heels on Netgalley, I was all over it. I was expecting a continuation of that story, but Dead Over Heels features different characters. It is set during the same time period, in the mountains of North Carolina. It’s not as campy as the previous book, but once again, I was hooked and couldn’t step away from the zombie apocalypse.
Ava’s parents purchased a vacation home in rural North Carolina, so she’s stuck in the cold mountains during Thanksgiving break, instead of prowling the mall with her friends in Florida. After her parents head to town, a 45 minute drive from their new digs, Ava’s world comes crashing to a halt. Cole, who has been doing yard work for her father, comes pounding up the porch steps with unbelievable news – the zombie flu has arrived from China, and a band of zombies are about to eat them both.
Ava doesn’t believe him at first, but a glance at the shambling corpses quickly convinces her. Grabbing her purse, which holds her live saving EpiPen, she races into the woods with Cole. She’s desperate to stay alive and find her parents. With zero wilderness survival skills, it’s a miracle that Cole was there to shepherd her away from the zombies. He is familiar with the woods, he has extensive camping experience, and he has hunted on the mountain his entire life. And oh, yeah, he’s drop dead gorgeous.
I am not a big fan of roughing it, so Ava’s extreme roughing it adventure was spellbinding. She and Cole have practically no supplies, and did I mention that she is allergic to everything? One insect bite and she goes into anaphylactic shock. She is toast without her EpiPen. She has spent her entire life avoiding the great out doors, and now she’s fleeing through the woods from zombies, trying to avoid wasps, bees, and every other stinging creature out there. The zombies are the least of her worries. While they are certainly a threat, she can outrun them. A bug is a death sentence.
Dead Over Heels is a frantic race through the woods, battling hunger, the weather, bears, and the walking dead. With all of the adrenalin pounding through their systems, Ava and Cole are constantly in a state of distress. They hit it off like oil and water at first, due to their very different backgrounds. Cole thinks of Ava as a Floridiot, and Ava rudely calls Cole a redneck. As they are forced to rely on each other, and as they save each other from death time and again, they begin to develop feelings for each other. Who could blame them? They have no idea if anyone else is still alive, or whether everyone on the planet is now a stinky zombie. It’s comforting that they have each other.
Told in alternating POV, I found both Cole and Ava likable and relatable. I charged through Dead Over Heels, and I can hardly wait to see what’s next.
Review copy provided by publisher
The end of the world just might be their perfect beginning…
Glenview, North Carolina. Also known—at least to sixteen-year-old Ava Pegg—as the Land of Incredibly Boring Vacations. What exactly were her parents thinking when they bought a summer home here? Then the cute-but-really-annoying boy next door shows up at her place in a panic…hollering something about flesh-eating zombies attacking the town.
At first, Ava’s certain that Cole spent a little too much time with his head in the moonshine barrel. But when someone—or something—rotted and terrifying emerges from behind the woodpile, Ava realizes this is no hooch hallucination. The undead are walking in Glenview, and they are hungry. Panicked, Ava and Cole flee into the national forest. No supplies, no weapons. Just two teenagers who don’t even like each other fighting for their lives. But that’s the funny thing about the Zombpocalypse. You never know when you’ll meet your undead end. Or when you’ll fall dead over heels for a boy…
Fall is in the air, and we’re celebrating by hosting a Halloween Thrills and Chills event! Some of our favorite blog friends will present fantastic guest posts and interviews by three Disney Hyperion authors with books releasing this year, including Mary: The Summoning‘s Hillary Monahan, Welcome to the Dark House‘s Laurie Faria Stolarz, and The Whispering Skull‘s Jonathan Stroud. Check out the full tour schedule below, and be sure to enter the giveaway at the very end for a box of horror books that will be delivered to you in time for Halloween reading! We’re kicking off the event tour with Jonathan Stroud, author of the The Bartimaeus Sequence and many other novels. His second book in his Lockwood and Co. series just came out, and if you like the idea of coolly competent young British ghosthunters with a Sherlock-type vibe, you’ll certainly enjoy this series. I love how the... Read more »
The Maze Runner (Book 1)
Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Series: The Maze Runner Series (Book 1)
Paperback: 375 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press; Reprint edition (August 24, 2010)
If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.
Nice to meet ya,
The latest issue of the venerable British horror/dark fiction magazine Black Static includes my latest story, "Patrimony", and is now available both in print and as an e-book in various formats. I'm thrilled with the accompanying illustration by Richard Wagner, and thankful to Andy Cox for buying the story and rushing it into print, because it's one of the strangest and most disturbing things I've ever written, and not the sort of thing that just any editor would get excited about.
For a preview, here's the first paragraph:
For most of my life, I worked in the gravel pit as an overseer. There had been gravel there for a long time, but there wasn’t much left. Mostly, we spent our days trying to decide where to set off dynamite. We didn’t have a lot of dynamite, so we wanted to be precise. We would go for weeks and even months without lighting a single stick. I spent my days – ten-, eleven-hour days – telling the workers to try over here, to look over there, to dig here, to prod there. We sought the best rock, the least sand.
If ghosts are real, they are probably like these: cantankerous, prone to snits, and deeply curious about the warm bodies living in "their" rooms. Oliver's dysfunctional family reunites in a lost-and-found whirlwind of mystery and secrets, with the housebound spirits as unexpected guests. Books mentioned in this post Rooms Lauren Oliver Used Hardcover $17.95
The Plot: Two families, years apart, move into the same house.
A house called Amity. A house in the middle of nowhere. A house with secrets, dark and deadly. The Good: Amity is about a haunted house; a house that is both haunted and that haunts its unfortunate inhabitants. It is told by two seventeen year olds, Connor and Gwen. Both have just moved into a new house. It is the same house, ten years apart. And both see what those around them cannot, or will not: that there is something terribly wrong with the house. Something supernaturally wrong.
As I said in the teaser, this scared the hell out of me. The title, Amity, refers to another story about a haunted house, The Amityville Horror. I read that original book at age thirteen, believing every word. Specific details have changed: the location of the house. The time period. The families. You don't have to read that book to "get" this one. That one book lead to several movies, several versions of the story, but all about a haunted house.
"Here is a house of ruin and rage, of death and deliverance, seated atop countless nameless unspoken souls." Connor's story is the earlier story, when he and his siblings move into the empty house. Connor's family is one that looks so pretty on the outside (mom, dad, twins, little boy), much like the house they move into: "Probably from the outside it looked like we were doing better than we really were. That was Dad's thing -- make sure we looked like we were doing better, doing well." What scared me about Connor's story was not so much his realizations that something was wrong with his house, but that he welcomed that darkness -- that Connor came to Amity with something already missing from his soul.
The present-day Gwen has a different set of problems than Connor, but part of those problems means that when she begins to see that something is wrong at Amity, people don't believe her. For Connor, the reader wonders how far he'll go; for Gwen, it's wondering whether she'll be able to stop history from repeating itself. And if she can, what will the cost be?
I love how the stories went back and forth between Connor and Gwen. I loved the various references to the original story. I loved how isolated and strange Amity was, further isolating Connor and Gwen's families. And I loved as both madness and haunting settled into both timeframes, those times began to merge.
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Molly and Kip are trying to find the Windsors, their new home of employment, but the locals are not making it easy for them. Every time Molly asks, they speak of the sour woods and tell Molly that she should stay away. But it's not like Molly has a choice - she and her brother are far from home and without parents. When they encounter Hester Kettle on the road, they seem to have found a piece of luck. She is willing to tell the children how to get to the Windsors for a promise of future stories. Molly agrees and they are soon on their way.
Molly's introduction to the family is a far cry from welcoming. Hired by the Windsor's solicitor, Constance has no idea Molly is coming and is less than pleased to find her telling stories to her young daughter Penny in the dusty foyer of the house. Constance and her son Alistair want Molly and Kip to leave immediately, but Molly is able to use her gift of the gab to convince them that they would much rather live in a well tended house, and that she and Kip can provide it for them.
She will soon live to regret this move, as the family and the house seem to be harboring dark secrets. While she is able to throw herself into the ample work of cleaning up the household during the day, it is at night when Molly is most afraid. Every night since she's been sleeping in the house, she has been having terrible nightmares. And it turns out the darkness isn't just in her mind. She wakes to find her door open, leaves in her hair and mud on the floor.
As it turns out, the Night Gardener Miss Polly has mentioned is real. He wanders the house and the grounds at night and has his hand in the nightmares of the household.
And he is not the only dark element at the Windsors' place. The tree, growing much too close to the house, is more than it seems as well, and will soon ensnare Molly as it has the Windsors.
This is a deliciously scary story that will have readers up into the night to finish. Jonathan Auxier is one of those writers who seems like he's been around forever. Not because there are a plethora of his books lining the shelves, but because he is a craftsman. His books have a timeless quality to them and are made of the stuff with staying power. The Windsor's legacy is slowly revealed piece by piece which helps bring the suspense level to that of a slow burn. He explores the themes of human weakness and greed, family and loyalty with aplomb. The setting is expertly laid out and even now as I close my eyes I can see the grounds, the stables and the green door.
Fans of dark fantasy, Victorians, and well crafted stories will be left shivering with delight.
Once again, I succumb to the zombies’ siren call. I was looking forward to spending more time with Faith and Sophia as they struggle to survive the zombie apocalypse, but I was disappointed with the pacing of the first half of Islands of Rage & Hope. There weren’t enough zombies to keep me entertained, and the military aspects of the story bog things down for me. I like the zombie battles, and even though they get repetitive, the zombie clearance missions. There’s nothing quite like imagining a bad-ass 13 year old girl leading a squad of Marines into the thick of a zombie battle and showing her troops how to get the job done. Faith’s efficient dispatch of the infected is something I look forward to with each new installment of the Black Tide Rising series.
The Wolf Squadron, in need of medical facilities to produce vaccine against the virus that has wiped out most of the population, leaving those that don’t die outright mindless, savage beasts with an endless hunger for flesh, have taken back Gitmo from the hordes of zombies that have taken up residence on the base. In order to free the submarine crews from their vessels, the Wolf Squadron needs the vaccine. They need the expertise of the personnel trapped on the subs. One of the sad results of losing so many to the plague is a void of skilled scientists and engineers to help rebuild civilization. The key to taking back the world from the infected lies with the submarine crews, and Steve Smith, leader of the Wolf Squadron, will do whatever it takes to get them vaccinated against the flu and back in active service with his troops. He’ll even put his daughters, Faith and Sophia, at risk obtaining the materials necessary to manufacture the vaccine.
After securing Gitmo, the story stalled for me. Faith has to learn how to get along with her new Gitmo Marine troops, and things just aren’t going well for her. People she trusted have been promoted to other units to help prepare for missions against the zombies, and she’s struggling with her new duties and her new Staff Sergeant. Military protocols are as much a mystery to me as they were to Faith, and the lack of action made me put the book now down for a while. I just wasn’t in the mood for the personnel struggles; I wanted more zombie killing action and less procedural training for Faith. Who really cares whether she can write up a report when the world is overrun with zombies?
I picked up the book again and gave it another go while torturing myself on the treadmill. Once Faith was given the mission to clear some islands, the plot picked up and I couldn’t put my Kindle down. I even walked longer on the treadmill than I intended, because I didn’t want to stop reading, not even to relocate to a chair. Back in her element, slaughtering plague victims, Faith proves her worth as a Marine. Her skeptical new squad members see first hand that she’s a zombie killing machine, and her confidence is restored. Report writing, meetings, and parade drills don’t mean much to Faith. Killing zombies, though – now that makes all the sense in the world.
Islands of Rage & Hope ends on a high note, and I was sorry to hit the last page. The Wolf Squadron now have most of the tools they need to begin restoring some sort of civilization to a world gone mad. I am really looking forward to the next book, but I’m sad that it will be the last. I don’t normally like reading series, but Black Tide Rising has been a fun ride, so I’ll be sad when it’s over.
Review copy provided by publisher
BOOK 3 IN THE BLACK TIDE RISING SERIES FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHOR. Sequel to To Sail a Darkling Sea and Under a Graveyard Sky.
With the world consumed by a devastating plague that drives humans violently insane, what was once a band of desperate survivors bobbing on a dark Atlantic ocean has now become Wolf Squadron, the only hope for the salvation of the human race. Banding together with what remains of the U.S. Navy, Wolf Squadron, and its leader Steve Smith, not only plans to survive—he plans to retake the mainland from the infected, starting with North America.
The next step: produce a vaccine. But for do that, Wolf Squadron forces led by Smith’s terrifyingly precocious daughters Sophia and Faith must venture into a sea of the infected to obtain and secure the needed materials. And if some of the rescued survivors turn out to be more than they seem, Smith just might be able to pull off his plan.
Once more, exhausted and redlining Wolf Squadron forces must throw themselves into battle, scouring the islands of the Atlantic for civilization’s last hope.
The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten. Harrison Geillor. 2011. Night Shade Books. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Is it a horror novel or comedy? Readers will be the final judge in the end.
I do not like horror novels. There are a few slight exceptions now and then that I've discovered by accident. But. For the most part, I don't seek out horror novels. So, if I don't seek out horror novels, why would I read The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten? For one reason, primarily. The book pokes fun at Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. It asks a big 'what if?' What if the heroine is not good, clumsy, and naive? What if the heroine is evil and manipulative? What if she wears a mask in every relationship? Being who she needs to be--in that moment--to get what she ultimately wants?
Bonnie Grayduck is the heroine who appears to fall madly and deeply in love with Edwin Scullen, a vampire. And she is one of the monsters in this horror novel. The events loosely fit into the Twilight books, so, one could definitely see the book as being a parody. But this parody isn't a ha-ha parody.
Bonnie is a dark person. She doesn't think nice, happy thoughts. She wants what she wants when she wants it. It is all about power and control and desire. And she has adult desires. Don't expect the "innocent" tension or chemistry from Twilight. This book is for more mature readers, I'd say.
So Edwin had taken a sudden trip to Canada. Interesting. It was insane to think he'd left town because of me...but in my experience, most things in the world do seem to resolve around me. And if they don't start out that way, they get there eventually. (50, ARC)
"Ike's great," I said, because if I told her I thought he was podgy and dull she'd get offended, "but I like Edwin." She looked at me, now. "Really? Scullen? You don't like Ike?" "I like him, what's not to like, but, not that way." "I don't understand you," J said, voice heavy with mistrust. "Ike is so sweet and good and kind, and Edwin...he's so cold and condescending and superior." I gave a great sigh. "I know. I've always been attracted to boys like that." (80, ARC)
I'm not much of a reader, but if I was, apparently I'd have a hard time reading any novel written in the last fifty years that didn't have a brooding sexy conflicted vampire in it--the shelves were just full of the stuff. (91, ARC)
"You are a brave, wonderful, suicidally stupid, diplomatic-incident-causing, amazing woman," Edwin said, kissing my face all over. We were in my bed, two nights after Gretchen's very timely demise. He'd only been back for about ten minutes, and he'd already called me names, clutched me to his bosom, sobbed a bit, brooded a fair amount, and proclaimed his love in a fairly operatic fashion. He'd finally settled down to snuggling me in bed which was rather less exhausting. (196, ARC)
Afterlife with Archie has proven to be one of the biggest successes in recent years for the 1/3 eponymous publisher, with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla’s take on a zombie-infested Riverdale proving to be a surprisingly reflective take on the characters – putting them in a different genre of story in a mature, smart, and darkly comic manner. Following the critical and commercial success of the book it’s no surprise, then, to hear that the company are going to continue pushing the boundaries for a new take on Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ sees Aguirre-Sacasa once more penning a spooky take on the sorceress, but this time in a very different genre of horror – dropping the zombies for a more psychological horror as he’s joined by Robert Hack for a re-imagining of her origin story. Gone is the Lovecraftian-styled horror and in its place stands a story more influenced by Rosemary’s Baby and The Amityville Horror.
As styled by Hack, this is a really invigorating take on Sabrina as a character – thematically resonant, artistically off-kilter, and with a real sense of menace within each page. I’ve been new to Archie as a publisher, but what’s quickly emerged over the last year for me is how carefully they’re able to reinvent themselves and their characters – it wouldn’t have seemed likely that the characters could stand within a mature-only storyline, and yet here we are! So to find out more about what we can expect from this creepy new take on Sabrina, I spoke to both Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack about the book! Read on!
Steve: When did the idea of doing these horror-themed takes on Archie come to life… to excuse the pun?
Roberto-Aguirre-Sacasa: “Afterlife” came first, inspired by the variant cover Francesco did for an issue of “Life with Archie.” Jon Goldwater, his son Jesse, and I were having breakfast, talking about the cover, and then we were all like, “This has to be a series!” A lightning-in-a-bottle a kind of thing.
Steve: At what point following Afterlife with Archie did the concept of a Sabrina series come about? Was that always something you had in mind once AwA started?
Roberto: “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” came up after the first or second issue of “Afterlife,” we were chatting about a potential spin-off or companion book, and Sabrina made such an impact in Issue One of “Afterlife,” but I knew she wasn’t going to be the lead, so that seemed like a no-brainer. She’s also such a comic book character, it felt crazy that she was only occasionally guest-starring in other people’s books.
Steve: Do the two books interlink in any ways, or are these separate worlds, separate takes on the character?
Roberto: At this point, they’re separate universes, separate takes on the same character. But, ever since the three witches in “Macbeth,” witches have come in three, so who’s to say there might not be a third incarnation of Sabrina, waiting in the wings—and that we might not see them all together? The “Afterlife” Sabrina, who is Cthulhu’s Bride now, remember; the “Chilling Adventures” Sabrina, who is a student of the occult; and the mainstream, bubblegum pop Sabrina…that would be a FASCINATING crossover, don’t you think?
Steve: What tonally is your goal for Sabrina? Stories about witches have been done so often – in comics alone, you have occult stuff going on in several books, like Coffin Hill and Wytches – was it important to find a new approach for this series?
Roberto: Witch stories are some of the oldest stories, so there is a concern, “Have we seen all this before?” And witches are absolutely having a moment, with those comic book series you mentioned—not to mention the last season of “American Horror Story: Coven,” but to me, it’s all about the characters and the journey they’re on. If that’s compelling and fresh and emotional, then I’m onboard.
As for tone, it’s a bit more of a slow-burn that “Afterlife.” I keep referencing certain movies like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane,” but more recently, Ti West did a great horror movie called “House of the Devil,” that really captures the creepiness and dread—as well as the sly humor—of what we’re going for with “Sabrina.”
Steve: Has the series required you both to do a lot of research on the occult? Has there been anything cropping up in the research which you’ve become particularly interested in bringing to the book?
Roberto: Yes, there’s been a lot of research. A few years ago, I wrote a play about the Abigail Williams character from “The Crucible,” and the Salem Witch Trials, so I did a ton of research for that, which has fed, directly, into “Sabrina.” And I’ve been watching tons of witch movies, reading tons of witch stories, and really just letting my imagination ramble a bit, through this dark history of American occultism, in all its manifestations…
Robert Hack: I already have a library and head full of otherwise useless arcane information, it’s nice to have a respectable outlet for it. I’ve been making notes of interesting visuals from old books and films.
Steve: The tone may be suggested in the script, but it’s in the art that it really hits readers. What was it about Robert’s art that made him the best fit for the project?
Roberto: Francesco (Francavilla) introduced me to Robert’s art, which I immediately loved. We became Facebook friends, and I started to see more and more of his work. Covers, pin-ups, he did a great variant for “Life with Archie” that was in the style of an old movie poster—“Riverdale Confidential.” (He also did this insanely intricate drawing based on the “Quartermass” movies, which I became obsessed with.)
When I started thinking that “Sabrina” was going to be a retro-book, set in the 1960’s, Robert was the first artist I thought of for it.
Steve: Robert, how did you come aboard, yourself? You’d already contributed a variant cover to AwA, right?
Robert: Yeah, I’d done a variant cover for Afterlife #1 and a few other covers at Archie last year. I was starting to get informal questions from friends at Archie about my schedule and if I would ever want to work on a monthly book. It was when I congratulated Roberto on his appointment as CCO that he told me about the new Sabrina book and I jumped at it.
Steve: What’s been your approach to the series, as artist? Are there any influences on your storytelling from film, literature, anywhere else? The preview I’ve seen suggests a sort of realistic horror aesthetic, like something similar to Rosemary’s Baby?
Robert: There’s quite a bit of that. Rosemary’s Baby and The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane were the first things Roberto used to describe the tone and I picked up on that right away. There’s a definite 60′s-70′s horror film vibe running through here. It was a great time for boundary pushing in film and that actually feels a bit what it’s like within Archie’s new approach.
Steve: On that, actually – there’s also a sense that the series is going to be an exploration of womanhood, like in the Polanski film; as the preview makes it very clear that Sabrina’s father is the one with power here, and has been wielding it since before she was born. Is it fair to suggest that this is a theme in the series?
Robert: Yeah, that’s fair. I think you have to, or you’re leaving a massive chunk of the human experience on the cutting room floor.
Steve: In AwA, Sabrina damns herself by taking on forces she can’t control – a classic Lovecraftian horror. In contrast, what kinds of horror are the influences on this series?
Roberto: Witch-horror, psychological horror, themes of revenge, themes of blood, themes of family… “The Amityville Horror,” that kind of thing. And the betrayal between Guy and Rosemary—the scariest thing in “Rosemary’s Baby”—that’s a huge influence on “Sabrina,” what happens between Sabrina’s mother and father, there will be hell to pay…
Steve: What do you both think moves your take on Sabrina away from other versions of her we’ve seen before? What defines her as a character?
Roberto: Well, this is fully a horror story, for starters. And it’s really epic. It starts when Sabrina’s a baby and just keeps going, so the canvas is bigger. Sabrina is the most powerful character in the Archie universe—as powerful as Dr. Strange, let’s say, or the Scarlet Witch—so let’s really explore that power—and how difficult it would be for someone to control it while they’re coming-of-age, hormones raging…
Robert: Yeah, the tone of this version is so vastly different. The characters are completely recognizable, but it’s a dramatic shift from the comics, or the sitcom. There is real, palpable terror here.
Steve: Robert, how did you go about designing her look? She’s got to pull away from the iconic ‘Archie’ look, but also remain distinctive. Was it difficult to find a new approach to her, or did you find it actually rather easy to find a new direction for the character’s look?
Robert: I started with something very traditional, very classic Sabrina. My first sketches had the big, iconic Sabrina hairdo, and we pulled back from that. It would have worked if the series was set in the early 60′s, but seemed out of date by the late 60′s we’re in. Or as Roberto put it- “It’s a little too John Waters.”. Despite my love of John Waters, I gotta admit that Roberto was right; it’s all about the tone of the series, and it just wouldn’t have worked. Once we slightly deflated the hair, it really came together.
Steve: You’re colouring the series as well, so you have a complete hold over how it looks and the mood it sets. What are your immediate goals as colourist, to set the tone and mood of this book?
Robert: We’re taking an interesting approach to the colors here. Roberto and everyone at Archie were keen to bring some of what I’d done elsewhere to the interiors. A unique, limited palate thing that feels a bit vintage and yet new. – and within that, keeping it suspenseful and terrifying.
Steve: How’ve you found working together so far? I know that on AwA, Francesco Francavilla’s interest in Lovecraft found a way into the series – have you both found any shared interests which might filter into Sabrina down the line?
Roberto: RAS: It’s still early days, but the way “Afterlife” is Francesco’s book, I want “Sabrina” to be Robert’s book. He knows—or should know—(and will know, after this interview)—that if there’s a story he wants to tell, or something we wants to draw, it’s a total free-flowing collaboration. He sends me images, I send him references, it’s been great and exciting, finding the exact right tone…
Robert: It’s been great, and the ideas I’ve brought have been met with genuine enthusiasm. And have been dovetailing with Roberto’s vision. And editors and everyone at Archie have been great about that to, totally behind us creatively and eager for us to push the limits of horror. Which is pretty much the weirdest, best thing ever.
Steve: The immediate storyline for Sabrina seems focused on her ancestry and history – but what else awaits her in the series? What do you hope readers take away from the book?
Roberto: The first arc is Sabrina’s dark origin story, from when she was a little girl to her sixteenth birthday, when she finds herself at a crossroads. After that, there will be high school stories, stand-alone stories, we’re going to explore all of her supporting cast in a deep way—Salem’s going to get his own issue, detailing how and why he was turned into the cat—the aunties are going to get the spotlight, we’re going see them as young women…
We’ll see rival covens, we’re going to tell a big possession story, it’s going to be a bit more free-ranging than “Afterlife,” I think, the tapestry’s going to be a bit more unexpected and weird…
Thanks to Roberto and Robert for their time! Thanks also to Archie for helping to set up the interview. ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ #1 is out next month…
My Cousin Rachel. Daphne du Maurier. 1951. 374 pages. [Source: Library]
Years ago I read and enjoyed Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I've been meaning to read more of her books ever since. My Cousin Rachel is the second of hers that I've read. I enjoyed it. I'm not sure I enjoyed it more than Rebecca. But I think it is safe to say that if you enjoyed Rebecca you will also (most likely) enjoy My Cousin Rachel.
My Cousin Rachel is narrated by Philip Ashley. He is the heir to his cousin Ambrose's estate. Ambrose took him in and raised him essentially. These two are close as can be. Daphne du Maurier knows how to do foreshadowing. In both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, she uses it generously giving readers time to prepare for tough times ahead. In this case, the foreshadowing is about Ambrose's trip abroad and his surprise wedding to a young woman, coincidentally a distant cousin, named Rachel. Rachel is a widow he meets in Italy. Instead of returning home to England, these two settle down in Italy--Florence, I believe. Philip is angsty to say the least. How dare my cousin do this to me! How dare he marry someone he barely knows! Philip spends months imagining Rachel's character and personality. She has to have an agenda! She has to be manipulative and scheming. She has to be TROUBLE. Now Philip doesn't voice his concerns to everyone he meets. He is more guarded, almost aware that it's silly of him to have this strong a reaction to someone he's never met. But Ambrose's happily ever after is short-lived. And not just because he dies. Ambrose wrote mysterious letters to Philip over several months. In these letters, Philip sees that all is not well. That there is something to his prejudice against Rachel. It seems that Ambrose has regrets, big regrets, about Rachel. The moodiest of all these letters reaches Philip after Ambrose's death.
So. What will Philip think of Rachel once he actually meets her? What will she think of him? Will they be friends or enemies? Will they trust one another? Should they trust one another? Whose story is based in reality? Is Rachel's accounting of Ambrose's last months true? Or was Ambrose right to mistrust Rachel? Will Philip be wise enough and objective enough to know what is going on?
The author certainly gives readers plenty to think about. Readers get almost all their information filtered through Philip's perspective. But I suppose the dialogue in the book might provide more. If one can trust Philip's recollection of it.
I think My Cousin Rachel is a character-driven horror novel. Though I'm not sure if horror is the right description. It is certainly creepy and weird. Not all horror novels star vampires and werewolves and ghosts and zombies.