Saturday, October 22, 2016

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22

Ghostly edited, illustrated and introduced by Audrey Niffenegger

Scribner. 2015.

This is an anthology of ghost stories selected by author/artist Niffenegger. There is no theme or specified range of stories in the collection. They are simply stories that she liked and wanted to share. Niffenegger has great taste. While some of the stories are familiar and well anthologized in other collections of ghost stories, they still resonate and are in excellent company. Some of the authors include Edgar Allen Poe, Saki, Ray Bradbury, M.R. James, Niffenegger herself, Kelly Link, M.R. James and P.G. Wodehouse. It's a really nice mix. Everyone of these stories is a gem. If they could all be of this quality I'd encourage more anthologies of stories chosen by established authors based simply on what they like without concern about whether the stories have been anthologized before.

Friday, October 21, 2016

31 Days of Halloween - Day 21

Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts by Orrin Grey

Word Horde. 2015.

Orrin Grey should be a familiar name to followers of the Countdown to Halloween since he has been an active participant for several years now. Painted Monsters contains thirteen short stories most of which begin with old horror tropes, particularly cinematic ones. Grey then gives these tropes very new, clever, spins while often dropping nods to their inspirations. Lovecraft, Poe, John Carpenter, Clive Barker, Roger Corman, and others all have their fingerprints laying under the fresh paint. These are not pastiches, however. These are original works with their own dark secrets, and are all worth reading, particularly Persistence of Vision which is ripe with novel ideas and chilling in its scope and suggestion.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

31 Days of Halloween - Day 20

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

William Morrow. 2015

When a medical cure cannot be found for 14-year-old Marjorie Barrett's increasingly troubled behavior, her father, John, turns to a spiritual one, and her mother, Sarah, reluctantly goes along with it. Father Wanderly believes that Marjorie is a victim of demonic possession, and secures permission to perform an exorcism, all of which will happen under the watchful cameras of the reality show The Possession. The family dynamic, already in jeopardy quickly unravels as related to us by Marjorie's eight-year-old sister, Merry, now an adult relating the events to the author of a book on the story of the Barretts.

At the center of the book is whether or not Marjorie is actually possessed, or just a troubled teen showing signs of mental illness. This is not spelled out in any obvious way, and no characters sit down and discuss this directly, but it's there, and Tremblay uses familiar possession tropes to reinforce this divide. To Tremblay's credit, the book is more troubling and disturbing if the possession isn't real. There's a real creep factor to this book. Sure, some of that comes from the implied supernatural aspect of the story, but most of it comes from watching this family disintegrate under the detached watch of the cameras, and where Merry seems to be the only family member who isn't falling apart, and who finds herself needing her troubled sister's love and comfort as her parents pull away from each other.

A Head Full of Ghosts is very well done. I'm looking forward to reading more of Tremblay's work.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

31 Days of Halloween - Day 19

Poems Bewitched and Haunted selected and edited by John Hollander

Everyman's Library Pocket Books. 2005

This book is exactly what it sounds like, a collection of poems about witchcraft and spirits. The poems are divided into five categories and come in a variety of lengths and styles. Some are excerpts from longer works. Unfortunately, there is no context provided for where these poems were taken and no real additional information about the poems, or poets is provided. There are some real gems here, and some that barely seem to fit the criteria. You won't face any sleepless nights dipping into this collection, but it's perfect for some bedtime reading by candle light on a rainy Fall, or Winter's night.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

31 Days of Halloween - Day 18

Edgar Allan Poe's Spirits of the Dead - By Richard Corben
Dark Horse Books. 2014

Richard Corben is no stranger to adapting the works of Edgar Allan Poe to comics, having previously done so for Creepy and Eerie back in the 1970s. Now with a bit more room to breathe he has adapted a number of stories which appear collected here. Like Roger Corman's movie adaptations, Corben's interpretations stem from a mood or theme that Poe established in his poems, and filled out a narrative that built on that mood or theme and has turned them into a successful narrative adaptation. While Corben's almost sculpted, full color artwork may not seem to be what many people would think of as the most suitable style for adapting Poe, it works beautifully, grotesquely, or both simultaneously. This is not even the end of Corben's Poe adaptations, but is is a really nice collection and a welcome addition for fans of Poe, or Corben, to add to their library.

Monday, October 17, 2016

31 Days of Halloween - Day 17

Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

Mariner Books. 2010.

Of all the books I've posted so far this month, this one is my favorite. Based on true events that took place at the end of the 16th century, Daughters of the Witching Hill tells the story of an impoverished family living in an old tower in the woods. The family is led by Bess Southerns, a Cunning woman, who uses a mixture of herbology, prayer, and perhaps some gifts given to her by her familiar, Tibb, to heal the local sick and livestock. This gift is not present in Bess's daughter, Liza, but seems to be the destiny of her granddaughter, Alizon, who resists her calling. The story, told from the perspective of Bess and, later, Alizon, is an intimate look at their lives at home and in the surrounding community, and is a slow burn leading up to the tragedy that will destroy them that hits hard when it comes. This is an extremely well written book that transports you into the middle of the story. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

31 Days of Halloween - Day 16

Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt

Shock Totem Publications. 2016

This debut collection is a triumph. Eerie and mysterious with questions often left unanswered and the revelations all at an intimate personal level. Full of originality and dread, Wehunt never forgets that stories are about people, no matter how big, or uncaring, the universe is that surrounds them. Many of the stories are about loss and the emotional turmoil felt by those left behind, but each story is a unique gem filled with hidden secrets and treasure and the occasional door that should not be opened. As you can see by the great Michael Bukowski cover, other things lurk as well. This collection contains eleven stories. I can't wait for the next batch to appear.