Category Archives: Horror

H. P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and M. R. James, as well as Victorian and Edwardian writers such as E. Nesbit, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, and even Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote some scary supernatural short stories. Contemporary authors are continuing the tradition of terrific, terrifying story telling.

Conjure House by Gary Fry

I got this from Amazon for my Kindle because there must have been some kind of special deal. (I checked – it was free). At least, I hope that is what it is because I can’t imagine buying it otherwise.

It has a 4.5 rating on Amazon; I can’t imagine how it managed that.

If you hadn’t figured it out by now (and I know you have because you are a very smart person or you wouldn’t be reading my blog), I didn’t care for this book. This is the first book I’ve read in a long time that I feel owes me for the hours of my life I spent reading it.

It is a mishmash of horror tropes – a little H. P. Lovecraft, a little Stephen King, a little who knows. The writing isn’t even good – it is too repetitive and pointless. He mentions three different characters’ excellent vocabulary four times.

The story doesn’t make any sense. SPOILER ALERT: Why would the children without thumbs kill Anthony’s parents fifteen years after their younger son, Simon, disappeared? Why did the children assume Victorian dress once the big bad guy disintegrate? Did their thumbs grow back? Was Simon the only child he had taken in over a hundred years? What made the big bad disintegrate? Was it Anthony’s pseudo-psychobabble? According to Anthony, a psychology PhD candidate, the big bad is bad because his father was mean to him. What??? The author is credited with a PhD in Psychology. Let’s hope he sticks with his day job (unless it is writing books), except I think he recently published another book.

So, in conclusion, resist the this book. Don’t be fooled by the Amazon ratings. Avoid this book at all costs. I need to go read one of the Brontés, Wilkie Collins, Jane Austen – anybody – to wash my mind out. The sooner I forget this experience the better.

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Break My Heart 1,000 Times by Daniel Waters

I love ghost stories; this one did not impress me.

I confess that I was not familiar with the author, but, apparently, Daniel Waters is critically acclaimed for Generation Dead which has two sequels. I have not read those books. I’m not tempted.

I was intrigued by the concept, but it was never explained. There was a great deal that was left unexplained.

Since the “Event,” ghosts are a normal part of life now. Veronica’s house has two ghosts: her father’s ghost appears at the breakfast table each morning. A boy haunts her bathroom. But what was the “Event”? Was it a virus, a holocaust, a bomb, what? Calling it the Event implies that it was a single instance, but other allusions suggest that it continued over a period of time.

Some people who died have not reappeared as ghosts. Some ghosts can’t leave a specific space; others seem to be able to move about at will. Other ghosts have certain schedules when they appear; others pop up when least expected.

Veronica and Kirk take it upon themselves to investigate Mr. Bittner, one of their teachers who seems to have an intense interest in Veronica. What they uncover they never suspected.

The shift from one character to character is confusing and often distracting. Honestly, for me, the plot was predictable, the characters stereotypical. There was much more telling than showing. For example, we are told that Veronica is a flirt and has dated dozens of guys; however, there is only one other boy, besides Kirk, who figures in the story.

Apparently, Break My Heart 1,000 Times will be a movie. I think I would rather be reading another book.

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The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn

Well, here we are, back in the Long Black Coffin neighborhood, kind of.  Maybe there is a cougar craze going on. Back in my day, it was called a Mrs. Robinson. Oh, well. Reading a couple of the reviews on Amazon I found that some readers would have preferred an even more perverse and twisted book, I assume sexually and sado-masochistically. On the other hand, some found it too gruesome. You can’t please everyone all the time.

 I found it too long. Actually, a number of currently published books could use an editor. Have all the editors been laid off? Despite its length, it was a quick read, due to its simple language and lack of character development.

 The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn is being marketed as a cross between Blue Velvet and Basic Instinct. I didn’t see Basic Instinct, so I don’t know about that, but I see the Blue Velvet elements.  A bizarre tale of suburbia makes this an intriguing and inviting read. It’s got perfect lawns, cookies, home-cooked dinners, and blood. Harlow is a bona fide female psycho, calculating, manipulative and resolute in her planning. All the same, one wonders why her men try so hard to please her in every possible way. It’s a case of telling rather than showing, unfortunately.

 Harlow (interesting choice of name) has a deal with Mickey, who lives in a squalid, run-down rental next door. Andrew is yet another roommate who moves in with Mickey, a friend he hasn’t seen since they were children. He wants to leave behind an unhappy childhood home and agoraphobic, alcoholic mother. Drew is vaguely aware of some tension between Mickey and the neighbors, Harlow and her husband, Red. To him, they are the perfect couple, everything his own family wasn’t. However, the better acquainted he gets with his new neighbors the more he suspects unspeakable darkness beyond the white picket fence. When he discovers the deal Harlow and Mickey have, we all understand that nothing is as it appears.

 There were some holes in the plot – for example, why did the rest of the neighborhood tolerate the rental house Harlow and Red owned? Other examples would be spoilers, except that Drew did seem a bit clueless and Mickey quite unimaginative.

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Long Black Coffin by Tim Curran

When I started reading this book, I was, for some reason, under the impression that it was a YA horror novel. I got over that very quickly. Maybe it is “new adult,” the new term for readers 18-to-25-year-olds, the age group right above young adult. The New York Times said that some in publishing as describe this genre as Harry Potter meets 50 Shades of Grey.

I haven’t read, nor do I plan to read 50 Shades of Grey. Don’t misunderstand me; I read The Story of O a few years ago and even dabbled in A. N. Roquelaure’s (aka Anne Rice) Sleeping Beauty books. However, I may be too old for this kind of thing now. Maybe there needs to be a “old adult” genre for us aging baby boomers.

Not really a “ghost” story, there is too much paranormal, even  H. P. Lovecraftian in the plot. Besides the bi-species offspring, there is the sex. Lots of sex. Kinky, perverse, masochistic-sadistic sex. Many readers don’t believe that Lovecraft’s work contains any sex. Go back and reread his stories.

A twisting brutal tale, it offers plenty of horror for anyone. Told in the first person, Johnny Breede slowly (very slowly, allowing more than adequate time for the sex scenes) learns the truth behind the death of his best friend and that friend’s suicide. Shocked, confused, and disturbed, Johnny becomes overwhelmed (and quite distracted) by his lust for the woman who holds the key to it all. Johnny finally understands  the horrid secrets of his friend, perverse secrets buried deep in the cellar, ghastly memories of sin and murder, and the mystery contained within the long black coffin.

Recommended for those seeking the sick and perverse.

 

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Moonset (The Legacy of Moonset) – Book One by Scott Tracey

Moonset is a new series about teenage witches and their dysfunctional family and a mysterious legacy

Justin Daggett, his trouble-making sister Jenna,and their three orphan-witch friends/siblings, Malcolm, Bailey, and Cole,  havegotten themselves kicked out of high school onceagain. The Congress (no, not that one) has to step in and relocate them to another new town. For some reason, they are moved to CarrowMills, New York, the town where their parents—members of the terrorist witch organizationknown as Moonset—began their evilexperiments with the dark arts, known as Maleficia, fifteen yearsago.Justin’s parents, in fact, were the leaders and were executed.

They have Witchers assigned to supervise them; the leader is Quinn, who just happens to be the son of Justin’s parents executor, Illana Bryer. The town seems a bit off, and strange things are continually happening. Justin finally gets a girlfriend, Ash, which brings some welcome happiness to his life. However, the kids come to believe that they were moved to Carrow Mills as bait for the remaining members of Moonset.

The siblings are accused of unleashingblack magic on the town, and they must prove their innocence. This leads Justin to learn a shocking discovery about Moonset’s past . . . and its deadly future.

Moonset has humor in addition to all the elements of a YA horror story. It also reminded me of The Unfortunate Events series because of the sibling relationships, I suppose. The magic and spells also had a bit of Harry Potter in it. On the other hand, it is probably difficult to write a book about magic and witches without reminding the reader of Harry. Also, there were so many names and terms for the people in the Congress and Moonset that it got a bit confusing. Another confusing element was that I didn’t realize until the 3rd or 4th chapter that Justin, the narrator, was a boy. I thought the story was being narrating by a girl. Maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention. Otherwise, there really wasn’t anything fresh in this book; the mild humor was its saving grace.

Its ending – and its title – promises sequels. It might be interesting to see what Justin, Jenna, Malcolm, and the others – and we – learn about this paranormal battle.

 Scott Tracey’s first novel, WITCH EYES, was listed as a YALSA Popular Paperback for 2011, and an Amazon Best of 2011 book in the LGBT category. DEMON EYES is his latest release.

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Three Supernatural Classics by Algernon Blackwood

Algernon Henry Blackwood (1869-1951) was an English short story writer and novelist, one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre. Though Blackwood wrote a number of horror stories, his most typical work seeks less to frighten than to induce a sense of awe. His two best known stories are probably “The Willows” and “The Wendigo”.

 H. P. Lovecraft considered “The Willows” (1907) to be the finest supernatural tale in English literature. In his treatise Supernatural Horror in Literature, Lovecraft wrote “Here art and restraint in narrative reach their very highest development, and an impression of lasting poignancy is produced without a single strained passage or a single false note.” “The Willows” is an example of early modern horror. Said by some, including H. P. Lovecraft, to be one of Blackwood’s best stories, and thus one of the best ghost stories in English. The precise nature of the mysterious entities in “The Willows” is unclear, and they appear at times malevolent and treacherous, and at times simply mystical, almost divine. These forces are also often contrasted with the fantastic natural beauty of the locale. In sum the story suggests that the landscape is an intersection, a point of contact with a “fourth dimension” — “on the frontier of another world, an alien world, a world tenanted by willows only and the souls of willows.”

 The Wendigo (1910) is set in the Canadian wilderness. A hunting party separates to track moose, and one member is abducted by the Wendigo. Robert Aickman, a supernatural fiction writer associated with August Derleth and H. P. Lovecraft, regarded this as “one of the (possibly) six great masterpieces in the field”.

 The wendigo is a creature appearing in the legends of the Algonquian people. It is thought of as a malevolent cannibalistic spirit that could possess humans or a monster that humans could physically transform into. Those who indulged in cannibalism were at particular risk, and the legend appears to have emphasized this practice to be a taboo.

 The Wendigo is a story of the unknown, not only the stories and rumors of something in the wilderness, but the apprehension in going into unexplored territory and living off the land and by one’s wits. This is a classic monster tale that asks the question, “Who or what is the monster here?” “The Wendigo” gives us a look at the unknown and brings with it both fear and wonder, which many times both go hand in hand.

 Like my personal favorite, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, classic horror stories build the suspense by simply not showing the monster and by contrasting the fantastic with the mundane. The Wendigo has character development, a vast setting, and an unsettling chill of something watching you at every turn.

 Blackwood’s novella is a masterful buildup of mood and atmosphere that provides a glimpse into prehistoric ages, when superstitions, gigantic and merciless, oppressed the hearts of men, when the forces of nature were still untamed, the old Powers that may haunted a still primeval universe.

 Interestingly, off topic, Theodore Roosevelt published  a brief tale titled “The Wendigo,” It appeared in The Wilderness Hunter, his ninth book, published in 1893, just eight years before he became president. It relates a “goblin story,” supposedly told to the narrator by a “grizzled, weather-beaten old mountain hunter, named Bauman.”

 The concept of wilderness as the shadow of civilization is certainly old as American literature, when the Europeans encountered  seemingly endless woods and unknown animals, spirits, and peoples, but forests have their own particular significance within Blackwood’s fiction, not least because Blackwood’s concept of a tree entailed an alarming degree of consciousness, or presumably unworldly wisdom. “The Willows” and “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” (1912) portray men at the mercy of trees.

 “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” is not in this collection. It is the eco-horror story to end all eco-horror stories. Again, the supernaturalism is indirect, but also because it’s a thoughtful meditation on changing notions of spirituality at the turn of the 20th century, on the threshold of the Victorian era’s final collapse in the trenches of World War I. It contrasts conventional Christianity against animistic mysticism, and provides an examination of fin-de-siècle spiritual ennui that in some ways is reminiscent of the work of Arthur Machen. Very highly recommended. It can be found in

– at Project Gutenberg
– at BlackMask/Munsey’s (multiple formats)
– at HorrorMasters (PDF, not printable)

 “The Listener” is a more traditional ghost story . It feels like a chilling fireside story whispered at midnight, but told in exceptional prose and told with a keen intensity that Blackwood injected into the best of his pure horror tales.

The story is told in the form of the diary of a nameless writer who rents a room in an old house in London. He reports strange nightly activities in his house, the sense of someone unseen listening outside his door, whispering strange phrases in his ear while he sleeps, bizarre thoughts recorded into his diary, a maid who refuses to talk about what once happened in the upstairs rooms, the vanishing figure on the staircase with indescribable features, and the slowly increasing sensation of some horrible illness creeping over him. The diary entries show a deterioration and paranoia about everything in the house. On the other hand, the author tells us he has a history of mental illness in his family, and he suffer from sleepwalking. Is the narrator reliable? We learn that a man occupied the upper floor had committed suicide; he was a leper and had lost his extremities. The question of the narrator’s perception constantly haunts it, making the inconclusive and abrupt ending appropriate.

These are three excellent examples of Algernon Blackwood’s works. I look forward to reading many more. For all things Algernon, this is a very thorough website: http://www.litgothic.com/Authors/blackwood.html

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Lucretia and the Kroons by Victor LaValle

Don’t go near 6D. Not if you value your life. That was where the Kroons live, and they’re crackheads. That’s the advice Loochie’s brother, Louis, gives her, and he is ten years older than she, so he knows.

However, when your best friend, Sunny, who has cancer, is supposed to come play but doesn’t, you take chances, venture up the fire escape and find out whether the Kroons have Sunny.

Loochie meets monsters and enters a dark fantasyland where she finds lush forests growing from concrete, pigeon-winged rodents, and haunted playgrounds. Are they hallucinations – remember those odd cigarettes Sunny and Loochie smoked? – or are they real?

Victor LaValle has written that this book is partly an homage to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and a prequel to his upcoming novel, The Devil in Silver, but more a tribute to the commitment and grace of two best friends. http://www.everydayebook.com/2012/08/victor-lavalle-author-of-lucretia-and-the-kroons-on-the-magic-of-childhood-friendships/

In the appendix to The Other, which I have cited elsewhere, Don Chaon calls that book “an intense, lyrical meditation on childhood, nostalgia, and loss.” I think that could apply to this book as well.

I’m looking forward to reading The Devil in Silver, which continues the story of Lucretia and her life without Sunny.

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