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  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2016/10/31 Permalink
    Tags: , scary stories   

    10 Creepy Novels to Get You in the Halloween Spirit 

    Halloween is upon us again, and that means three things: one, we all get to dress up in costumes and pretend to be something else for a little while; two, all the candy we can eat before going into some sort of sugar-shock coma; and three, scary stories.

    Scary is a moving target, of course. Some of us are terrified by old-fashioned ghost stories, some of us need something a little gorier and psychologically damaging—but whatever your specific taste, Halloween is the ideal time of the year to rediscover just how absolutely terrifying a good book can be. So start a fire (or put that streaming fireplace thing up on Netflix), grab a delicious beverage, turn the lights down, and read one of these ten super scary books.

    Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
    Straub’s 1979 novel is a perfect combination of classic ghost stories and modern technique. Five old friends gather regularly to share ghost stories for their own amusement. When one of them dies, the surviving four are plagued by nightmares of their own deaths—and slowly start to believe that a horrific shared moment from their past is literally haunting them. If you’re looking for a traditional scare with a sharper modern edge, this is your ideal Halloween read.

    House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
    On the other end of the tradition-versus-modern spectrum is Danielewski’s absolutely mind-breaking novel, in which several overlapping storylines and narratives spiral downward into madness. Starting off as a more-or-less straightforward tale of a house that is impossibly larger on the inside by a few inches, the novel drags the reader down a dark hallway, with reality slowly fading away as you progress.

    The Fall of the House of Usher, by Edgar Allen Poe
    You literally cannot have Halloween without at least one Poe story or poem. It’s a law, we believe. The Fall of the House of Usher isn’t always the most name-checked of Poe’s works, but at Halloween it should be; it’s expertly constructed, drips with dread, and will scare the socks off you no matter how many times you’ve read it before.

    Hell House, by Richard Matheson
    Matheson’s most famous book is I Am Legend, but Hell House is scarier. Using a familiar premise—paranormal investigators seek proof of life after death by studying the titular house, known as the most-haunted house in history—Matheson expertly undermines your sense of security and grip on reality as he undermines the sanity of his protagonists. The effect is subtle at first, and you won’t even realize how white your knuckles have become until a sudden noise somewhere makes you jump out of your skin.

    The Hellbound Heart, by Clive Barker
    Barker’s story of a puzzle box and the delighted demons it summons has been long overshadowed by the creepily effective film adaptation Hellraiser, but the original story is Barker at his best. The most terrifying aspect of the story is the utter implacability of the Cenobites, who cannot be dissuaded from their “experiments” once engaged by anyone who summons them. Of course, having the film visual of Pinhead in your mind’s eye as you read doesn’t hurt, either.

    Jaws, by Peter Benchley
    Jaws is one of those books that has been shifted into a kind of bland half-memory in pop culture. The Spielberg film is what most people remember, and even then a lot of the absolute horror of the story is rubbed down by nostalgia. Re-read Benchley’s original novel, however, and what you’ll find is a shot of pure 1970s horror that spins on one of the classic human terrors: the natural world, and its many, many ways of killing us.

    Burnt Offerings, by Robert Marasco
    A horror novel that deserves a much wider modern appreciation, Marasco’s story turns on a classic horror trope: the too-good-to-be-true offer. In this case, the Rolfes are offered a way out of their small, hot Brooklyn apartment: for a small amount of rent, they can live in an upstate mansion for the summer. All they have to do is prepare meals for the mansion’s owner, the elderly Mrs. Allardyce, who never emerges from her bedroom. Over the course of the summer, of course, the Rolfe’s learn the fundamental rule of horror stories: too-good-to-be-true is always a doorway into a hell.

    Songs of a Dead Dreamer, by Thomas Ligotti
    Ligotti is slowly getting the attention and acclaim he deserves, but remains sadly under the radar. This collection of short stories contains some of his most terrifying work, and being broken up into stories means you can read them in short bursts, then turn on all the lights and TVs in the house in-between to get rid of that dreadful sense of horror. One thing is certain: your grip on what’s real will be slightly looser by the end.

    White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi
    This complex, sensational modern classic of horror layers on several themes and narrative voices—including, unusually for a story that’s in part about a haunted house; the house itself. When a house declares it can only be as good as the people who inhabit it, you know you’re in for a dark ride. Twin sisters Miranda (who suffers from a compulsion to eat non-edible things) and Eliot come to the house in an unhappy way—and the story will absorb you, and scare the pants off of you.

    Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
    Pessl combines modern technology with a classic story of an underground artist whose cult-like following has spun up several impenetrable legends about both their lives and their work. As a writer investigates the death of a cult filmmaker’s daughter, the films themselves—legendary and difficult to view—may be the most disturbing aspect of this twisting descent into madness. A much better choice than watching horror movies—none of which will approach the dread of the fictional films within.

    What novel scares you the most?

    The post 10 Creepy Novels to Get You in the Halloween Spirit appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Sarah Skilton 7:30 pm on 2016/10/26 Permalink
    Tags: , , happy halloween!, , , scary stories,   

    The Best Books That Scarred Us For Life 

    What’s scarier: seeing something jump out at you, or knowing that it could, and imagining how and when? My bet’s on the latter. Anticipatory fear is the worst. As such, I always find the book version of a spooky tale more frightening than a film or TV show, because my mind will conjure up horrors no special effects team—no matter how good—could touch. With that in mind, here are some of the best books that scarred us for life, from junior high onward, just in time for Halloween.

    The Dollhouse Murders, by Betty Ren Wright
    “Dolls can’t move by themselves, she told herself, and felt goose bumps pop up on her arms.” You’re not alone with those goosebumps, Amy. This blast from the Scholastic Book Club past is a freak-tastic middle grade novel in which almost-13-year-old Amy agrees to spend a week with her aunt in the long-abandoned, secluded country house where her (murdered) grandparents once lived. Angsting over family troubles, Amy is grateful for the change of scenery. She’s also delighted to discover an intricate, beautiful old dollhouse in the attic. Did I mention the dolls inside look like Amy’s family members, and spend their evenings reenacting their own horrible, unsolved demise?

    Audrey Rose, by Frank De Felitta
    The Templetons, Bill, Janice, and their 10-year-old daughter, Ivy, live an idyllic, carefree existence in 1970s Manhattan, playing board games in their lavish apartment, listening to opera, and drinking gallons of scotch. Their dream life turns into a nightmare when Elliot Hoover enters their lives. He’s been stalking the Templetons because he believes Ivy is the reincarnation of his 5-year-old, Audrey Rose, who died in a fiery car crash the exact moment Ivy was born. What makes the book so terrifying is that sooner or later you’ll believe it, too, no matter how much you want to fight against the idea.

    It, by Stephen King
    An unputdownable story that deserves its spot in pop culture history. Creepy Clown? Check. (Let’s face it, Pennywise is the reason so many of us fear them.) Abusive bullies? Check. Small town imbued with ravenous evil, affecting generation after generation? Check. Ingeniously, the “It” in It assumes different forms based on what each adolescent member of the “Losers Club” fears most. For Ben, the creature is a mummy. For Richie, it’s a werewolf. For Mike, it’s a flesh-eating bird. And for Beverly, it’s her father. Yeah, that’ll stick with you. The upcoming two-part film (with Bill Skarsgaard as Pennywise) ensures fresh frights for years to come.

    American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis
    My husband knew this book would disturb me to my core, so he marked the most shocking sections I could skip over without losing plot threads. Did I heed his warning? No. It has been more than 10 years since I read the book and I still regret this. The film version (starring Christian Bale and Reese Witherspoon) is whimsically adorable in comparison to the book and did not prepare me one iota for the experience of reading it. Depending on your point of view, it’s a brilliantly dark satire about 1980s consumerism and pop culture, or a sadistic murder spree in which the victims are almost entirely young women and children.

    The Ruins, by Scott Smith
    Four fresh-faced, semi-Ugly Americans and one German are vacationing in Mexico when they decide to ditch the beach and check out an off-map archaeological site. Once there, they are surrounded and trapped by frantic locals who draw weapons as soon as one of them fatefully steps into the vines at the edge of the ancient ruins. Unable to leave the site, and at the mercy of sinister forces, our heroes turn into a bickering, hysteria-fueled mess. Written with a sense of terrifyingly plausible, slow-motion, “this can’t be happening” dread that paralyzes the reader, the horror stems from what the main characters do to each other to stay alive amid a psychologically torturous situation.

    Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn
    Damaged kleptomaniac Libby Day (portrayed by Cherlize Theron in the film adaptation) survived her family’s massacre as a child, and even identified her older brother, Ben, as the murderer. But then an underground club of true crime aficionados convinces her Ben wasn’t the culprit. Chilling, ghastly, desperate figures abound in this book—particularly in flashbacks—as the truth is revealed about what really went down the night of the killings, and why.

    The Other, by Thomas Tryon
    Thirteen-year-old twin boys Holland (the shy one) and Niles (the hellraiser) Perry have been left to their own devices ever since the shocking death of their father. Mom is bedroom-bound, unable to deal with widowhood, so the boys’ grandmother, Ada, sweeps in with a supernatural, inherited “game” (which Game of Thrones fans may recognize as one of Bran’s talents). The rural Connecticut farm where they live in the 1930s turns into a psychological horrorscape, and the book requires a second reading after the complex web of lies and distortions is untangled.

    The post The Best Books That Scarred Us For Life appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Sarah Skilton 3:00 pm on 2015/10/30 Permalink
    Tags: cat winters, , , , , scary stories, the uninvited   

    The Uninvited Author Cat Winters Talks Ghosts, Romance, and All That Jazz 

    Morris Award finalist Cat Winters loves a good ghost story. Her knockout young adult debut, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, tackled World War I, the Spanish flu, séances, and the weight of souls. In her The Cure for Dreaming, 1900 Oregon was the backdrop for a tale of young woman freeing her suppressed independence during the rise of hypnotism.

    This year, Winters brought her exceptional blend of supernatural, romantic, historical fiction to adults with The Uninvited, a 1918-set ghost story overflowing with gin and jazz, which the San Francisco Book Review called, “eerily haunting, beautifully tragic.” It centers on Ivy Rowan, a survivor of the influenza epidemic of 1918, who has the unwanted ability to see “the uninvited”: ghosts whose presence signals death’s approach. For your Halloween delectation, we asked Winters to tell us why she’s drawn to the turn of the century, and what her favorite ghost stories are.

    While researching The Uninvited, what was some of the more shocking information you uncovered about the time period?
    What shocked me the most was discovering the mistreatment of and violence against German Americans and other immigrants during the WWI period. I set The Uninvited specifically in Illinois because of a real-life lynching of a German-born coalminer named Robert Prager in April 1918. He was killed by a mob of approximately three to four hundred men for purportedly making “disloyal utterances against the United States.” Eleven men went to trial for his murder on June 1918. All eleven were declared “not guilty” and freed. Prager’s murder wasn’t the only 1918 act of violence committed against an immigrant in the name of patriotism, unfortunately. I don’t think we hear enough about the paranoia that gripped the nation during this war, but I think we could learn a lot from it.

    Having previously written about the Spanish flu and WWI for your debut YA novel, the critically acclaimed In the Shadow of Blackbirds, was it enjoyable to revisit that era? Are there any aspects of life in that time that you wish were still in play today?
    Revisiting the Spanish flu itself was a little dark and intense, but I was approached by HarperCollins specifically to write an adult novel set during the pandemic after my editor, Lucia Macro, found a copy of In the Shadow of Blackbirds in an airport bookstore. I didn’t get to incorporate all of my WWI-era research into In the Shadow of Blackbirds, namely the prejudice against German Americans, so I felt I had another 1918 book in me, and I did enjoy returning to the era. The time period is rife with conflict, which makes it a fantastic setting for a novel. I wouldn’t want too many aspects of the era to still be in play, but I will say I love the clothing and the music of 1918.

    Since you’ve written for both teen and adult markets, what was the most challenging or unexpected part of switching “voices” for your adult story? 
    I made it slightly easy on myself by making the protagonist of The Uninvited a 25-year-old woman who’s just now leaving her parents’ home and truly experiencing life for the first time. In some ways it’s still a coming-of-age novel, like my YA fiction, although Ivy has gone through a few more experiences that give her a little more maturity. It’s interesting because I struggled for 15 years to find a publisher for my adult fiction before switching to YA Back when I first started writing In the Shadow of Blackbirds I worried I wouldn’t be able to pull off a teen voice, but I quickly and comfortably slipped into a younger point of view. I’m actually having a harder time with the voice of the adult novel I’m currently writing. In that book, my protagonist is in her late twenties, and she’s been out on her own for a while. It’s been challenging to infuse her voice with experience after writing about characters still figuring out how to become adults.

    Jazz music plays a central role in The Uninvited. Were you a fan of jazz prior to writing about it, or was it a new experience for you? Do you have a favorite artist or song?
    I grew up near Disneyland and fell in love with Dixieland jazz (or “hot jazz”) when I heard musicians playing it live all the time in New Orleans Square. I’ve also been to the real New Orleans and was blown away when I heard the music played right there in the city where it all started. Many people associate the birth of jazz with the 1920s—the “Jazz Age”—but the musical style emerged much earlier. I can’t remember exactly how I decided to flood The Uninvited with WWI-era jazz, but the music quickly became an integral part of the novel. I listened to dozens of original recordings from the teens—artists such as the Original Dixieland Jass Band and Jelly Roll Morton—which I thoroughly enjoyed. I particularly love the song “Tiger Rag.”

    Although the story is very sad in some ways, the characters experience joy, and purpose, and transcendence. When you write, are you conscious of balancing their emotions (and the actions that cause them), or does this naturally occur for you as part of the narrative?
    Yes, I’m definitely aware of balancing characters’ emotions. I tend to write about horrifying moments in history, and I know I would depress readers if I didn’t include a great deal of hope and transcendence. It also comes about naturally as the book evolves. All of my novels, thus far, have involved characters who face the darkest moments of their lives and struggle to persevere and come out on the other side in one piece. I feel that humor, joy, love, and an urgent need to rise above the chaos are all integral aspects of survival stories. Otherwise, the characters, and the readers, would simply give up.

    What are some of your favorite ghost stories?
    The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters; A Certain Slant of Light, by Laura Whitcomb; The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill; A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano; The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving; and Affinity, also by Sarah Waters. The very first ghost novel I ever read was The Ghost Next Door, by Wylly Folk St. John. My mom ordered it for me through my school’s Scholastic book program.

    The Uninvited is a love story as well as a mystery. Did you originally write the book with a certain reveal in mind, or did that evolve later, as you got to know your characters?
    The reveal came about early. When the original, basic idea for the book first showed up in my head, I knew the character of Daniel Schendel had some secrets he wasn’t telling. Within a week of coming up with the plot, I knew what those secrets were, and it made writing the book all the easier.

    Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming YA book The Steep and Thorny Way, and also what’s next for you in adult fiction?
    Yes, definitely. The Steep and Thorny Way is a reimagining of Hamlet set in 1920s Oregon. My Hamlet is a biracial 16-year-old girl named Hanalee Denney who’s dealing with the death of her father in a region shaped by Prohibition and the rise of the KKK. The novel involves murder, intolerance, the struggles of biracial and gay teens in the 1920s, love, forgiveness, Shakespeare, and a ghost. It’s out March 8, 2016, from Amulet Books/Abrams, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

    I’m currently finishing up the first draft of my next adult novel, Yesternight, which HarperCollins acquired this year. That one is also set in the 1920s, but it involves a school psychologist who’s investigating the case of a seven-year-old girl who claims she lived a past life as a brilliant young Victorian woman. I’m waiting to hear the estimated release date of that one.

    The Uninvited is on sale now.

  • Sarah Skilton 5:00 pm on 2015/10/29 Permalink
    Tags: , , lock the doors, , scary stories, vicki pettersson   

    7 Reasons Vicki Pettersson’s Swerve is a Perfect(ly Terrifying) Halloween Read 

    New York Times bestselling author Vicki Pettersson is perhaps best known for her urban fantasy books (the Signs of the Zodiac series and Celestial Blues trilogy), but that was before Swerve, her first out-and-out thriller, arrived this summer. If you missed it in July, grab a copy this month, because Swerve is a raw, dizzying, horror show of a road trip in which Las Vegas physician’s assistant Kristine Rush must fulfill a madman’s scavenger hunt to save her fiancé’s life. If that’s not enough to pique your interest, here are 7 more reasons Swerve is a perfect Halloween read.

    1. It redefines the term “page turner.” Who kidnapped Kristine’s dreamy, wealthy, jazz-loving fiancé Daniel at that creepy-as-hell rest stop? Why did they do it? And most importantly, how can Kristine save the man she loves within the impossible time span she has been given? Long after your trick-or-treaters have departed, Swerve will keep you up reading till 4 a.m., gulping back candy and coffee as you brave out one killer ending.

    2. It’s chock full of terror. During certain scenes, my eyes darted around the page, as I frantically hoped to land on a less pitiless sentence. Jump scares abound. Read it with all the lights on.

    3. The phone call might be coming from inside the house. A central tenet of the book is that the people we ought to be closest to are often the most dangerous. Kristine’s parents have proven time and again they aren’t reliable. So who can Kristine really trust?

    4. It’s shockingly fast paced. The almost nonstop action takes place over two days, perfect for experiencing in real time. If you’ve ever binge-watched a season of 24 in 24 hours, this book is for you.

    5. There are triple twists. Each time a new facet of the story is revealed, three more lie in wait for you like traps about to spring. Sure, you might figure out one or two of ’em, but odds are Pettersson is still 37 steps ahead of you.

    6. The setting will give you the shivers. During the day, the Mojave Desert is barren and deadly, home to scorpions and rattlers, but at night it’s an especially eerie, soulless place. Most of the action takes place on or near Interstate 15, the blisteringly unforgiving freeway that connects Las Vegas to Lake Arrowhead. As Pettersson describes it early on, “The sun is a heat lamp with no off switch, the blacktop road a cast-iron griddle, and any living thing caught between the two is just meat set to singe on high.”

    7. The main character is no run-of-the mill “final girl.” Kristine was raised in the “arid, barren desert,” and her teenage years were miserable, involving an underground mine and an ominous figure known only as the Coal Man. But the fact that she has survived a living nightmare once (or twice…) before means Kristine has reserves of strength that not many heroes or heroines do. In short, she and her tormentor may be evenly matched.

  • Shaun Byron Fitzpatrick 5:00 pm on 2014/11/13 Permalink
    Tags: , lois duncan, , , , scary stories, spine chillers, , william peter blatty, wintry tales   

    7 Books to Scare You Silly This Winter 

    Lois Duncan's Daughters of EveEven though I’m a big scaredy cat, I love all things horror. I’m always up for creepy books and scary movies, even if it means I’ll be sleeping with my lights on for a while. It’s a weird, slightly masochistic love, but I don’t try to fight it. Some of us just like scaring ourselves silly, and what better time to do that than the early days of winter, as the days grow shorter and the nights (and the things that go bump in them) grow longer, and grow fangs? If you’re looking for a terrifying read that’ll send you straight under your comforter, pick up one of these awesomely scary novels and dig in.

    Coralineby Neil Gaiman
    Coraline might be a book for kids, but I still have nightmares about the Other Mother and her button eyes. I used to check under my bed and behind my dresser to make sure her hand wasn’t creeping around. And by “used to” I mean “still pretty often, even though I’m almost 24 and an adult.” Gaiman creates a world that’s creepy and twisted and so horrifying it’s almost beautiful, with the mission of scaring the pants off of his readers. Mission accomplished, Neil.

    Itby Stephen King
    Let’s all just agree clowns and spiders are the most terrifying things on the planet. Now imagine the horror of a clown TURNING INTO a giant spider. And also, you know, eating children. Throw in some bleeding sinks, a werewolf, and enough metaphysical talk to make your head spin and you basically have the scariest novel ever written. I have yet to read It and not have nightmares for at least two days afterward. Seriously, I still shudder every time I see a storm drain. Beep beep, Richie.

    Something Wicked This Way Comesby Ray Bradbury
    Carnivals, even normal ones, are kind of scary. They just are. So when a carnival is run by a man who tattoos his victim’s faces onto his skin, you know you’ve reached the next level of fear. Although the ultimate message of the book sounds kind of corny (love and happiness conquers all!), the novel features a lot of genuinely scary characters. The tattooed Mr. Dark is not someone you want to mess with, and I’d prefer not to meet the Dust Witch in a dark alley. Plus, it’s written by Bradbury, so you know it’s going to be wonderfully creepy and brilliant.

    The Exorcistby William Peter Blatty
    Does this one really need an explanation? An ancient demon possesses a 12-year-old girl and makes her do a lot of messed-up stuff. Tales of demonic possession have always turned me into a big scaredy cat, so obviously I cringe a little bit every time I think about The Exorcist. If you’ve been terrified by the movie, give the book a read. If you don’t mind having nightmares for a week, that is.

    Carrieby Stephen King
    Carrie isn’t scary because of the ending, since anyone born after the 1976 film version knows what’s going to happen: the prom, the pig’s blood, the ensuing massacre. And yet, even knowing the book ended in a bloodbath, I still spent the entire book terrified. I think knowing the ending somehow made the book even scarier—you’ll be constantly on edge, waiting for Carrie to finally snap. The buildup is so intense that it’s almost a relief when everything goes to hell—at least you can stop worrying about it.

    The Call of Cthulhuby H.P. Lovecraft
    All hail the great Cthulhu! If you aren’t familiar with this tentacled, slumbering god, you need to step up your Lovecraft game. Don’t let all the non-Euclidean geometry bog you down, this tale of a cult’s devotion to their apocalypse-bringing god is a horror classic for a reason. Plus, after reading it you’ll finally understand all the Cthulhu jokes the internet loves so much!

    Daughters of Eveby Lois Duncan
    This one is terrifying for the same reason Gone Girl kept me up at night: it’s a psychological mind melt that still leaves me uncomfortable. A new teacher unites her female students in a club called the Daughters of Eve, but their female solidarity soon turns violent toward those who dare question them. Are the girls fairly fighting the misogyny in their town, or is their new role model, Ms. Stark, completely mad? I still don’t know, and I still get the wigs thinking about it.

    What books give you the creeps?

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