Boo!: My Top 10 Halloween Reads

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Up until I graduated college, I was a theater geek who planned to do theater as her full time job, first as an actor and later wanting to stage manage, direct and write. Ah, life.  Anyway, I think that theatrical part of my personal still wants to play every Halloween. I’m a bit disappointed I won’t be dressing up for any parties until after Halloween but I’ll drown my disappointment in horror movies and handing out candy to little kids.  Every year, I try to read at least one scary book during October. The following list encompasses some of my favorite titles appropriate for Halloween. Some may not be considered straight horror but they all have their scary moments.

1. The Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark series by Alvin Schwartz, Illustrations by Stephen Gammell-Whether you are a 10 year old child or 30-something hipster, you’ve probably seen these books.  I read these in the 5th grade and was terrified by the stories. Remember, I haven’t been a horror fan for very long and these were so different from The Babysitter’s Club books I was reading at that age (Although I was also reading Fear Street books by R. L. Stine, which only didn’t make the list because I can only remember a few of the titles that I read). Of course, the scariest thing about this selection of scary stories and urban legends are the creepy illustrations by Stephen Gammell. I watch horror movies and read scary books all the time now and these illustrations still make me want to crawl into a fetal position in the corner. No wonder these have been  so frequently challenged in libraries and no wonder that they came out with 30th anniversary editions with tamer illustrations by Brett Helquist .  But the originals pack the bigger punch.

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I HAUNT YOUR DREAMS!!!

2,  IT by Stephen King- How many times on this blog can I say I love Stephen King? Well, this book is one of my favorites, The only book I’ve read more is The Stand and that one is more fantasy with scary elements.  IT is a great novel with characters that you really care about, both as adults and children but IT is also a commitment. At almost 1100 pages, this book is great if you want a scare that will last you past October.  The story is about a group of kids, who nickname themselves The Losers’ Club. They are terrorized by a supernatural being that takes on many forms (including the clown Pennywise, that has haunted so many King fans’ dreams). The book alternates between It terrorizing the characters as adults and as children. While, the scenes with Pennywise are scary, the suspense that King builds at the beginning of the novel when Bill Denbrough goes down into the basement to grab a can of Turtlewax to seal the newspaper boat he is makiing for his ill brother George has always gotten to me. I’m in my early 30’s, read this book for the first time 10 years ago and I’m still scared to go down into the basement. I owe IT for that.

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They All Float Down Here!!!!

3.  Come Closer by Sara Gran- This book may be a little harder to get a hold of but it is really worth it. Amanda has a great job, a great husband and a great life. Then one day she starts hearing strange noises in her home and having strange dreams. Slowly her behavior starts to become increasingly bizzare. Is she succumbing to a mental illness or is she possessed by something darker and more supernatural? If you figure it out for sure, let me know.  This was a twisted, extremely fast paced (I finished in 2 days) and hard to put down short novel.  The ending is greatly ambiguous but in way that will just leave you doubting what you think you know.  It was one of my favorite books of 2012 and I’m so glad my friend told me about it and that my library had a copy. The same friend has since bought me a copy since this is a book I want to reread.

4.  Dead of Night by Jonathan Maberry- It’s a Halloween list so I have to include at least one zombie novel. Maberry has several to choose from and if you’re more into YA, I’d go with the Rot & Ruin series which I have previously reviewed. Dead of Night is a scary and intense thriller. I finished this book at midnight right around Halloween last year and was so pumped with adrenaline I had to write a review on GoodReads right then (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10779721-dead-of-night?from_search=true). If you are as big a zombie fan as I, READ THIS. There’s also a sequel, Fall Of Night, due out some time in 2014.

5.  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman- Another YA selection, probably best suited for older children.  Nobody Owens, Bod, to those who know and care for him is raised by ghosts in a nearby graveyard after his family is murdered.  The ghosts and other supernatural beings in this story are Bod’s friends and protectors and are more whimsical than scary.  There is an engrossing mystery involving a man named Jack and what he wants with Bod. Bod has many adventures both inside and out of the graveyard. This book is essentially about growing up and growing into your own.  I read it when I was in my twenties and then called my mom to say I finally understood why she cried at the end of Peter Pan. The scene at the beginning of this story is probably to dark and violent for younger kids. I was very affected by it.

6.  Breathers by S.G. Browne- Another zombie offering, this one with a twist. If you aren’t really a scary story person but still want a story to get you into the season, this could be the book for you. Described as a “zom-rom-com” (zombie romantic comedy), this novel tells the story of Andy Warner, a “fresh” zombie begrudgingly living in his parents’ basement, friendless, and reviled by society, who no longer consider him human.  One day, he goes to an Undead Anonymous meeting where he meets Jerry and Rita, a recent suicide whom Andy falls for. With his newfound friends and growing confidence, Andy embarks on a journey of self-discovery and down the road of advocacy for the undead.  This book has a really dark sense of humor that is laugh out loud funny.  As it progresses, it gets darker and more thrilling.  Like Dead of Night, this book also has a sequel, I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus, already available at your local bookstore or library. You can start this on Halloween and be ready for its sequel by Christmas.

7. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice- I was a big Anne Rice fan when I was a teenager. Reading her Vampire Chronicles series taught me I desparately never want to become a vampire. Living forever becomes too lonely.  I was more enthralled with her Mayfair Witches series and The Witching Hour is the first book in that series.  The Witching Hour is the story of the Mayfair Clan, a New Orleans family possessed of great power and haunted by a powerful and seductive being named Lasher.  New Orleans is like a character itself and the family is full of unique characters.  I need to find my copy of this book and do a reread. Be warned this is the first of a trilogy that will suck you in.  A great companion if you’re really into this season of American Horror Story.

8. Hell House by Richard Matheson- I read this for a group read on GoodReads a couple of years ago.  Reminiscent of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Hell House tells the story of four investigators on an expedition to explore the strange goings on at Belasco House, the “Mount Everest of haunted houses”.  This book has lots of dark twists and turns and uses religious and sexual imagery to amazingly creepy effect. There are not many books that make it too uncomfortable for me to sleep, but this is one of them. ( Note: I also recommend The Haunting of Hill House or anything by Shirley Jackson, one of my favorite authors, but this post can only be so long. Her short stories, like The Lottery, are my favorite.)

9. Nos4a2 by Joe Hill- Vampires may not be my thing but Joe Hill makes them dangerous again. Charles Talent Manx has a thing for children, a power that literally sucks the life out of them.  Then he takes them  for a ride in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith to a magical land called Christmasland.  Victoria McQueen has a gift for finding things that are lost. As a kid she finds a rickety bridge that allows her to travel farther and to stranger places than any bike or motorcycle ever would (although, those are also tools of her trade).  One day, their paths cross leading to a series of events that could cause Victoria to lose everything she holds dear.  A tense ride with many supernatural elements, Nos4a2 is just a lot of fun with memorable characters.  This is another one you don’t have to worry about finishing by October 31st,  You can read it right up until Christmas 🙂

10. Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker- Do you love the Hellraiser movies (especially the first two)? Then why not read the novella that those movies (the first two) are based upon? Frank Cotton’s search for the dark pleasures of pain have lead him down a dangerous path toward Lemarchand’s box and to his undoing.  But Julia, his brother’s love crazed wife, has found a way to bring him back. Wrought with sexual themes, this book is as indulgent as its characters.  It’s also a very quick read. The first time I read it, I read it in 3 hours.  You could read it while passing out candy.

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Review of Dr. Sleep by Stephen King

 “We disappoint, we leave a mess, we die, but we don’t…”

The above lyric is from one of the few musicals I have been obsessed with since elementary school, Into The Woods. The lyric is from the song “No More” sung as a duet between the Baker and The Mysterious Man as the Baker works out his issues with his family past and how to proceed with an uncertain future. The first act of the play is light and fun, but the second act gets dark. I kept getting this song stuck in my head while reading Dr. Sleep because it’s what comes to mind when I think about people reconciling their past with their present and their future, especially when it comes to relating to absent or difficult parents.

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Title: Dr. Sleep

Author: Stephen King

Publisher: Scribner

Genre: Horror

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Dr. Sleep is a sequel to King’s novel The Shining,  picking up a couple of years after the events at The Overlook Hotel and carrying the reader through the early years of Danny’s adulthood and into middle-age.  I really enjoyed the first few chapters that act as a bridge between the two novels and reintroduce the characters of Danny Torrance, Wendy Torrance and Dick Hallorann.  The first few chapters of the novel read like old school Stephen King and have their genuinely scary moments.  It’s as Danny grows older that the tone of the book becomes less scary-tense and more suspenseful-tense.  Missing are the frightening images of The Shining. I’ve only read The Shining once and I was in my 20’s so this is not a case of the reader growing out of the fear the first novel brought them. King points out in the Author Note that he was reluctant to even attempt a sequel to what most consider one of his scariest books. Dr. Sleep just isn’t as scary as The Shining.

This does not mean that it isn’t a good story.  The newly introduced characters of Abra and her parents, Billy Freeman, and Dr. John Dalton read like classic Stephen King characters.  These are the main characters that, along with Danny, track down the members of the True Knot, a group of RV-driving “vampires” that torture and steal “steam” or life essence from children who exhibit the shining.  The True Knot, led by Rose The Hat, is not the scariest group of vampires, especially coming from the author of ‘Salem’s Lot. Most of the time they seemed a lot less powerful than even Abra herself, who is a thirteen year old girl who shines even more powerfully than Danny, and they have a fatal weakness.  I had trouble picturing them as a real threat except for the fact that they are paranormal.

The most interesting part of this novel, and probably the part most fans of The Shining are looking for, is about Danny’s life after The Overlook.  Danny has always been a character that you hope led at least a decently happy life after escaping his childhood and his murderous father.  Of course a happy ending can have some bumps along the way and Danny’s life falls victim to the same demons as Jack Torrance, namely alcoholism and a nasty temper.  After a one night stand that Danny steals and runs from, he ends up in New Hampshire, first as a maintenance guy for what I got the impression was a small theme park and then working for a hospice care center. This is where he gets the nickname of “Dr. Sleep”, assisting patients to their final resting places with the help of a cat named Azreel. The bulk of the novel switches between telling Danny’s story of getting clean and Abra’s story of growing up.  Using Danny’s passage of time is an interesting way of introducing Abra, who first contacts Danny telepathically as a baby. However, if The Shining was written by a ” well-meaning alcoholic”, As King states in the Author Note, then Dr. Sleep is written by someone who is all too aware of the damage that alcoholism causes to one’s life and relationships.  It feels as if Danny trades his alcohol addiction to one for AA.  I did want to see Danny clean up his act and he already knew being a “dry drunk” did not work for his father, but this part of the novel really drags. It feels like Dannny does nothing but work and go to meetings.  The scenes where he is at work at least have an emotional pull to them.  This was definitely a case where Stephen King could have used an editor who would actually tell him to cut some of the bloat he so often now seems to fall victim to.  I consider myself a big fan and I say that with respect, but I’m not going to just immediately ascribe perfection to an author because he’s prolific, famous and I enjoy his stories. I got a little bored on the middle of this story but the ending picks up the pace and finishes with an emotional punch.

If you approach this story for its characters and have enjoyed later books by King such as Duma Key, or you’re just curious to know how that little boy from The Shining grew up, then I think you’ll enjoy this book. If not, there are scarier books out there for you.

Review: Fire & Ash (Rot & Ruin Book 4)

When this book first came in the mail, I had a momentary thought of “Maybe I should re-read the rest of the series before I read the conclusion and review the entire series?” My brain immediately shut that down with the thought “You’re re-reading the Joe Ledger series right now! What are you crazy??” Like Benny often does in this series, I promptly told my brain to shut up. But it had a point, so this review assumes one very important thing: That you have read the rest of the series and your reading enjoyment shall not be spoiled by anything that is common knowledge to readers of the series by the beginning of Fire & Ash.  Writing this review would be very difficult without this assumption.  I didn’t reread the entire series, but this story is so fluid along the four books that I found myself wanting to review what I liked about the whole series and not just rehashing the events of the final book. READER BEWARE.

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Title: Fire & Ash (Rot & Ruin Book 4)

Author:  Jonathan Maberry

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: YA, Horror

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

I recently found my review on GoodReads for The New Dead, the zombie anthology where “Family Business”, the novella that was expanded into the first novel of the series, Rot & Ruin is published.  I described that story has having lots of heart and I’m happy to report that the heart and emotion that is in “Family Business” has remained throughout the course of the four books in this series and leads to a very satisfying ending.  There are three things that I have found rather appealing about this series:

1. The main character and his friends actually read like teenagers I might know-  I think one of the reasons I don’t read YA anymore is because I can’t relate to the way teenagers live their lives these days. Maybe it’s due to the zombie apocalypse cutting out technology-obsessed culture or their “warrior smart” training, but the characters in this series feel less self-absorbed while still being very self-aware.  They care about each other and relate to one another in a way that I understand.  There’s a lot of cooperation and not a lot of backstabbing going on here.  Even their relationships feel real, which I attribute to Maberry being able to write relationships that are complex but not overly complicated.

2. Adults actually exist in this world and work with the kids to change the world- “Adults handing this world over to the next generation” is a theme that permeates throughout this series.  The story is not about the kids accomplishing difficult tasks without the help of any adults. In Fire & Ash, Joe Ledger, who had a cameo in Flesh & Bone, takes over the adult mentor role from Tom, who died at the end of Dust & Decay. Ledger is a slightly softer version of himself in this series than in his own, but shows a nice mix of compassion, his usual sarcasm and authority over the situation. I like that Ledger is someone (at least later on in the novel) that the kids can go to but there are still scenes of rebellion and independence that show how capable these teens have become in their own right.  Ledger’s reluctancy at being a mentor in the face of the teens’ urgency to save their friend, Chong, allows for really great conflict between the generations without Ledger treating the teens like they’re too young to change their current situation. At their age, those teens should have some say as to how they want their world to be.

3, Zombies are people too (or at least they used to be)- The zombies in the Rot & Ruin series have always been monsters to be feared and also  people who became sick and whose actions are not entirely their own.  There’s something really emotional and scary about that. Especially now that one of Benny’s friends, Chong, is sick.  As readers, we’ve followed Chong through the first three books and care about him. It makes the search for a cure all the more desparate for both the characters and the reader.  I loved that Maberry’s resolution for the zombie plague isn’t entirely happy, but it works.

Overall, this final book wraps up the series quite nicely.  I do have a few questions now about how the Joe Ledger series will evolve to include information given to the reader in Fire & Ash. I doubt those questions will bother anyone but those of us who read both series and are sticklers for details and continuity. Rot & Ruin is one of those series that I am kind of sad to see end.  It’s a fun, action-packed, emotional rollercoaster of a ride.