ghosts

The Ghosts of Winter

Ghost stories are grand any time of year, but they’re particularly alluring during the wintry months. Days are darker and shorter, colder and crisper. Our eyes start to close more easily in winter. This is the perfect time for tales of hauntings and ghouls.

The Dead of Winter This is a children’s book that the algorithmic gods of Goodreads thought I would be interested in and those gods were right. I don’t normally have a chance to read children’s literature and when I do, my adult-reader-brain has trouble squaring the lightweight plots and writing. True, this novel will feel breezy to a grownup, but it was still really enjoyable to read a children’s book that was well-written and clearly influenced by Gothic literature. Of course, we will see the moving parts of this ghost story, but hopefully children will get chills while reading of this haunted house.

Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof You know you have a good roommate when he or she buys you books and an even better one when they gift you books about ghosts. This gem was sent by an excellent past roommate one Christmas and I can’t recommend it enough for the avid reader. It’s non-fiction that will appeal to both lovers of fiction and non-fiction, alike. Roger Clarke is a witty and astute writer, and he humorously serves up historical ghost stories and reasonings. Clarke is a believer, but he is extremely skeptical.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places You might be quick to lump this title and the aforementioned Ghosts together, but besides the umbrella theme of ghosts and haunting, they are very different. The writing here is a little more “academic,” for lack of a better term (but still pop enough for a general audience). American readers, certainly, will be familiar with a bunch of what’s being investigated (American History, is in the subtitle, of course), but Colin Dickey does bring in new info. For example, he proffers an aspect of the Salem witch hysteria that is lesser known: land disputes. Families were in business dealings and disagreements with each other over properties, and certain people were fingered as witches when they weren’t playing nice with the others.

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What are you reading during these wintry months? Any ghost stories in your pile?

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Hauntingly Beautiful: Ghosts, Ghouls, & Good Books

Christmas is almost upon us and for some reason the spooky feeling we all crave during October somehow vanishes beneath all of the holiday card glitter. But not for me, I say! (and I’m sure there are plenty of you out there that agree; I might not be commenting lately, but I’m still reading my favorite bookish blogs; I know what you people like.)

I’m one of those people that always has many tabs open in their browser. I can’t quite close the two that show this pseudonymous photographer’s new work of derelict houses called Hauntingly Beautiful. I saw a quick clip on the BBC that’s worth a watch, along with a few of his photos on his website.

 

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Although, Nina at Multo (Ghost) has fantastic folklore and spooky content year-round, she has been posting her annual Winter Tales: ghosts, haunted houses, and creatures abound. She kicks off this year’s with Number Ninety

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The graphic novel Three Shadows has been sitting on my night stand for far too long, but I’m hoping that the long weekend will free up some time to give to it,

“Three shadows stand outside the house – and Louis and Lise know why the spectral figures are there. The shadows have come for Louis and Lise’s son, and nothing anyone can do will stop them. Louis cannot let his son die without trying to prevent it, so the family embarks on a journey to the ends of the earth, fleeing death.”

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Many thanks to everyone who read and recommended some really great podcasts from my last post. I immediately began investigating (and subsequently binged listened) all of the ones listed. Even after listening to the creepy podcasts recommended, I did some internet sleuthing and loaded up my podcruncher with even more based on the comment recs. Here’s a quick rundown for those interested,

  • The Black Tapes Podcast
  • Tanis
  • Limetown
  • The Message
  • Knifepoint Horror
  • Criminal
  • The Leviathan Chronicles*
  • Imaginary Worlds*
  • Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery*
  • The NoSleep Podcast*
  • 99% Invisible (okay, maybe not exclusively spooky, but Helen recommended the Ouija episode)

*These are queued up but haven’t had a chance to listen.

***Also, for Spotify users, did you know they have loads of audiobooks, radioplays, etc. I recently listened to Christopher Lee read Dracula.

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I am sure everyone has a Goodreads account that is ever growing and shaming you for not being even close to catching up to it. I’ve recently added 3 titles.

Short blurbs excerpted from Goodreads,

  • The Girl From the Well: A dead girl walks the streets. She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.
  • The Screaming Staircase: When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts.
  • The Ghost Hunters: Welcome to Borley Rectory, the most haunted house in England. The year is 1926 and Sarah Grey has landed herself an unlikely new job – personal assistant to Harry Price, London’s most infamous ghost hunter.

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Woohoo! I think I am officially tapped out of spooky offerings for deep December. For those, who are too full from eating to even consider reading–really?–there is always the horror-comedy Krampus.

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

I was hoping to review this book before Halloween in case anyone was interested in an off the beaten path sort of read, but, alas, like many hopes, it had to be altered, changed, and delayed. Regardless, I hope everyone was able to squeeze in a ghostly story or two, or perhaps, a movie that makes you hear bumps in the night. Sadly, I was taken with a stupid cold on Friday (no doubt, from all of my traveling and little sleeping) and also, Halloween isn’t really noticed at all here in Berlin. But enough of that and more of the supernatural…

supernatural enhancements

The Supernatural Enhancements is a send-up to classic ghost stories and haunted houses; it’s also a cousin to the once popular “locked door” mysteries. The novel is a combination of fragments–epistles, notes, recorded conversations, video, etc.–and the majority, if not all, of the action takes place within the uneasy walls of Axton House, a large estate in Point Bless, Virginia. After the untimely deaths of the previous owners (the most recent taking a swan dive out of the window), a second cousin twice removed from Europe only identified as A. shows up after the house is bequeathed to him. He is accompanied by a mute Irish teenager named Niamh, who hastily scrawls her thoughts and exclamations onto a notepad, which is presented throughout the pieced together narrative (however, I must admit, these two characters had me rolling my eyes at the beginning, because they were dangerously close to being too cool hipster types; this feeling didn’t completely pass, either).

The novel has a humor about it. The author and the story are well aware of the history of haunted house novels before it and is curiously investigating it in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way.

A: I…I’ve been having some rough nights.
Strückner: Waking up screaming?
A: A couple times.
Strückner: Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and seeing things?
A: Okay, okay, I see the pattern.

As A. and Niamh continue to live in the house, hoping to identify why the previous owner offed himself, strange occurrences take place and a bigger mystery becomes apparent. I must admit that somewhere in the middle, the once quick and addicting page-turning did become a little tedious. The Supernatural Enhancements would have been served better by tighter editing. There were continuous pages of nothing–meaning, video and audio recording transcripts that offered absolutely no propulsion to the story. Also, the ending did become a bit confusing. Proverbially, I lost the plot. In a way, Cantero was trying to tie up loose ends, but it really didn’t explain the engaging pages he had going for the majority of the book.

Regardless, I would still recommend The Supernatural Enhancements. I’m truly a sucker for epistolary/fragment novels (re: Dracula). Has anyone else read this book? Perhaps, you’ve made better sense of the ending!

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce

This summer has seen a light sampling of haunting reads. Ghost stories are no longer dedicated to autumn/October release dates and this is something I’m entirely happy about. With that said, however, I was a smidge disappointed by the prolific Graham Joyce’s The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit.

electric suit

The novel is being promoted as one that taps into a more supernatural motivation, but taking the back burner would be a whopping understatement. Though, the writing itself is quite strong and clean, any notion of a “ghost” or an “electric blue suit” is wholly reduced in favor of more mundane plot points.

The book begins engaging enough and gets the story going quickly. David Barwise is a young college student who goes to work at a shabby seaside resort during his summer break. He’s drawn to the town because it is the same place that his father disappeared from fifteen years prior when David was only three years old. His mother and step-father are mighty worried and question him on his decision to go there. When David arrives he sees a man and a young boy on the shore. This, of course, brings up memories off his lost father.

David is much different than the rest of the employees who are entertainers–ventriloquists, stage performers, dancing girls–and the rest who make sure the holiday resort runs smoothly.

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit has all the pieces that should make it a stand-out work. Joyce positions the mysterious intrigue right at the beginning, but some how it gets lost. I think of this book has being in quarters: the first quarter whets our whistle; we must know about this man and boy on the shore.

“The man’s suit is blue and it darts with watery phosphorescence. The suit is beautiful, alive, quivering like the scales of fish.”

The man appears to him in his waking life and even in his dreams and nightmares. Joyce further goes on to set the novel in 1976, the hottest summer in recent memory, and makes the setting even more bizarre by having swarms of ladybugs engulf the town like a plague.

The second and third quarters are where we have a problem. There is too much concern with the minutiae of running a seaside holiday resort; the characters, as well, are little more than lightly stenciled versions of people. They seem fuzzy in my imagination and are never truly realized even though there is a sense that the author wants them to stand out.

The final portion is slightly more interesting. Questions are inevitably answered and mysteries are flattened out leaving them resolved. It all seemed as if it suffered from too little, too late syndrome.

Perhaps, I’m being too harsh on this novel, but I had such high hopes. It might be more suited for a casual reader sitting poolside who’s one or two mojitos in already. I haven’t read any other novels by Graham Joyce, but I’m under the impression that he’s highly regarded by fantasy enthusiasts and he’s won the O. Henry Award. Has anyone read his other books?

This House is Haunted by John Boyne

This novel came to me at the perfect time¹–sick in bed, unable to do much, and in need of some quality entertainment. Although, most of my time recently has been spent napping, I was able to squeeze in some reading time and a wee bit to write this review.²

This House is Haunted is a takeoff on 19th century Gothic tales (think The Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre). Eliza Caine is a 21-year-old school teacher who lives with her ailing father. In the first line of the book, she declares: I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father. For you see, her father insists on going out one night to see the fine author read one of his stories. The weather is too much for him and Eliza is finally left without parents (her mother died some ten years or so prior).

Without enough money or anything latching her to her hometown of London, Eliza answers an ad for a governess. There is no interview or reference-checking on the part of the family placing the ad; she is outright hired. When Eliza turns up in Norfolk, a nasty accident almost befalls her and when she arrives at the home of her new charges, she is not met by the parents but only by the children–the young Eustace, aged 8, and his older sister, Isabella, who speaks like a tiny, creepy adult.

Many accidents befall Eliza Caine, along with spooky moments of phantom hands yanking her out of bed or trying to choke her. She finds out that her predecessors also had unpleasant tenures as governess.

Besides the excellent exercise on Boyne’s part to write a well-conceived and engrossing tale of 19th century ghosts and intrigue, the real pleasure came from the mystery surrounding all of the strange events. With the unsettling Isabella and the unpleasantries stalking Eliza Caine at every turn, I couldn’ t put the book down. Of course, there is a tragic history behind Gaudlin Hall–the half-derelict home which the children live in–but only portions are extricated at times and it is up to Eliza to pull out as much as possible and piece it all together.

Fans of Gothic novels will definitely enjoy This House is Haunted. Its appeal, however, stretches further than to just those who are looking for an entertaining Gothic homage. It stands alone even with its apparent influence and I dare you to not be caught up in its captivating plot and characters. One shouldn’t merely dismiss it as a shadow of an earlier genre, but an alluring work of fiction that encompasses what we most look for in a novel.

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¹ I originally heard of this book through NPR’s Book Concierge, which I highly recommend.
² Excuses, excuses, I know, but many apologies for a short and light review this time round.