Book reviews for horror fans; weather a sleepless night with literary accounts of hauntings, possessions, zombies, vampires and beyond.
Book Review: The Woman in the Window
Women, girls... they are everywhere, man. They’re in cabins, they’re on trains, they’re in spider’s webs or hornet’s nests. Sometimes they’re gone. Sometimes someone let them go. Sometimes they’re in a group. In this case, there is a woman in a window. She’s not a woman in white or a lady in shadows or a girl who circumnavigated anything. She’s just a woman named Anna Fox in a window.
"Haunted Castles" by Ray Russell
I first read this book as a teenager because I had found it amongst a bunch of 70s paperback horror novels when I bought Peter Straub’s “The Throat” from the marketplace in my hometown (unfortunately, said book seller no longer is with us, rest his soul). But, my initial copy of Ray Russell’s three-story collection was tattered, torn and definitely second-hand. It was missing the publication page and it was dusty and raw. When I went home, I put down the Straub book and got stuck into the Russell collection almost straight away. It was amazing but it also scared the living daylights out of me. It was absolutely terrifying and a gothic masterpiece. There was an obvious relation to older horror novels and gothic texts in Russell’s attempt at showcasing the more dubious and deceptive side of human nature. But most of all what I liked about it is that when I came to re-read the book, I had actually completely forgotten about what I’d experienced the first time. I had a brand new copy which was published by Penguin and it was immaculate. I remembered reading the book but not what I had thought of it and so, sitting in the back of the car, on my way to the seaside, I re-read the whole thing. I ended up having a massive anxiety attack in the car because of the wide open spaces and since, I have constantly associated the book with being absolutely terrified. The book itself was not the initial reason for the attack but I think it may have contributed. Books can terrify me in ways that films only dream that they could. It just feels far more immersive when it is in a book and there are clear parallels between some of the stories in this book and older, wiser, darker books of our past - like Victor Hugo’s “The Man Who Laughs” and a number of others.
"The Man in the Picture" by Susan Hill
When I first read “The Man in the Picture” by Susan Hill I must have been around thirteen and then, I re-read it when I was about twenty-one. I like doing that with books because you discover things about the book you didn’t realise initially because you were so young. The things I unfolded when I was twenty-one were extreme in the field of psychological torture. It was actually far more frightening the second time I read it than the first. When I first read it, I was on a sort of ghost-story binge and so I was reading things like MR James, EF Benson, HP Lovecraft, Charles Dickens and others. But, in Susan Hill’s works I noticed a more modern gothic with a definite old flavour to it, it is something I absolutely fell in love with when it came to her works and “The Man in the Picture” was one of her newer ones. By then I had already read “The Woman in Black” and “Mrs. De Winter” and so, I was used to her gothic, atmospheric and often terrifying writing style. I would say that her books are best read at night, whilst it is raining, next to a dim lamp or better yet, by candlelight. Top it off with a slight thunderstorm and you might just have the perfect setting in which to read a Susan Hill novel. “The Man in the Picture” is no exception. It is a chilling book that you really need to read more than once in order to really get it.
"The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James
I was fairly young the first time I read this - around ten or eleven. I’m not going to lie to you, I had my dictionary at the ready and was looking up strange words left, right and centre. First time around, I didn’t really get it, so I went back and read it again and scared myself half to death because, after reading it once, I knew what all the words meant now. For a few days, I didn’t get much sleep and I was up most nights thinking about those weird children and the haunting coldness of Bly Manor. I would re-read the book over the years because the way in which the ghosts psychological enrapture the children is so incredibly intense even though the text itself is relatively short. You’d imagine you would need a long novel to build that kind of atmosphere, but Henry James does it in a short amount of time, leaving you with a shivering and shuddering feeling long after the text has ended. The last time I read it was when I was teaching it, maybe last year some time in the Spring. The students I was teaching it to often admitted that the text felt very dark because of the fact the bad things were happening to children. I think that much like novels such as “The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty and “Suffer the Children” by John Saul, Henry James offered us a darker look at hauntings and horror through his writing of the innocence and child-like nature of Flora and Miles. It is not only frightening, in some cases it is rather disturbing too.
"The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson
I first read this book when I was about fourteen years’ old and honestly I can say that I lost a lot of sleep afterwards. I found it in the library and the copy was a bit tattered and old, it looked like it had been there for a while and I took it home to read at night time. Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to be that bad because by that time, I’d already read and watched William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” and read a bit of Stephen King. I was pretty solid during my teens. But this book is a book that literally chilled me because different to all of those, it was a book in which your mind is completely turned and twisted and even the language makes you swallow your pride. The book is a reality of one woman who slowly loses it and yet, you lose it with her. It’s almost impossible not to feel the book in your body whilst your going through the insanity of its history, its story and every single one of its three dimensional, dark and flawed characters. Before you ask, I wasn’t a big fan of the TV show even though I did watch it - it didn’t seem to have anything similar to the book but the name. I hope they don’t do the same thing with “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James. I really hope they don’t. But, Carla Gugino was stunning as always.
The Haunting of Palm Court
Each week I plan on spotlighting a book that I find interesting. My friend Roxanne Rhoads of Bewitching Book Tours supplies me with many ideas for new books to use.
My favorite mental escape has been, as of late, coming home after the gym, and popping on my audio book of The Hellbound Heart, the quintessential horror novella of the mid-1980's that inspired the long-running Hellraiser horror franchise, making macabre wunderkind Clive Barker into an international celebrity and a bestselling author, as well as a much-applauded director. (He's also a graphic artist, and began his career as such.)
"Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley
I read “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley primarily because it was on the syllabus for GCSE Literature whilst I was at school. I found it on a reading list online and thought I would spend the summer trying to understand the angles of it, even if we didn’t study it - I thought it was a good exercise in my ability to read and understand an older text. I was thirteen years’ old and it would prove one of the most intense experiences of my life. It took me only one day to read the entire book. I just could not drag myself away from these extensive narratives. Over ten years’ later when I would be in the midst of teaching this book, I found I had the same passion and the same vigour for the novel I had felt in my teen years. It made me feel almost so young again. This book would become to a thirteen year old what a best friend that accepts a freak becomes to the freak. It became a statement of power. It became to me what I had never really had too much of before - it would become my friend. Especially the Monster. The Monster would be my very best friend.
There's Someone Inside Your House
This book is every person’s nightmare turned into a reality. Whether you believe in intuition or not, everyone has those moments in life when you feel as though you are being watched, as if there is someone just out of your line of sight that is keeping tabs on your every move. Some people feel this more strongly than others, and for those of us, myself included, who feel this so strongly that the hairs stand up on the back of our necks, I would offer a word of caution before reading this book; this book takes the illusion of your home representing safety and security and smashes it to pieces. A lifetime of horror movies have taught me to trust my intuition and that you never investigate mysterious sights/sounds, especially if it’s coming from your dark, musty basement.
Discovering V.C. Andrews: Part One - Inspiration and Influences
When I was nineteen and a year away from starting my first year of university to study screenwriting, Flowers in the Attic caught my eye in a bookstore. The name was vaguely familiar and I remembered my English teacher recommending it to a friend, but neither of us was keen on reading a book about abuse and incestuous relationships at fourteen. Although ironically I was in the midst of reading the House of Night series by PC and Kristen Cast, which tackled similarly dark themes.
Odriel's Heirs by Hayley Reese Chow
Rating: 5/5 Synopsis: The brave, burning with fire, harnessed the Dragon's Rage.... As the Dragon Heir, seventeen-year-old Kaia inherited the power of flame to protect her homeland from a Tell necromancer’s undead army. But after centuries of peace, the necromancer has faded to myth, and the Dragon Heir is feared by the people. Persecuted and cast out, Kaia struggles to embrace and control her seemingly useless gift while confined to her family’s farm.
Washington Irving and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Washington Ivring and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow part one: setting and time period Ivring was a writer who wanted to bring folklore and fairy tales to the real world. He wanted to us to feel as if this was a legend that had truly happened in some forgotten little town full of sleepwalking people. Its is in this tiny town that a ghost lurks at night, riding down dirt roads and past new churches into the unknown wilderness that lie before the residents of Sleepy Hollow.