Monday, 31 October 2016

Halloween Reads - Top Ten, or so ...

I've said frequently on social media that many supposedly chilling ghost or horror stories don't get the whole spine-tingling vibe going for me. Too long is spent setting the scene, then there's a couple of short, sharp shocks, and a quick resolution. For me, a spooky novel must have a good but rapid build up of atmosphere, sustained menace, and proper characters that it's possible to care about.

Having asked around for suggestions, I've been reading MR James, Stephen King, Wilkie Collins, and many other authors; short stories and novels, books that have turned up for review, some that have been waiting for ages on my book shelves, quickly downloaded e-books, library books. I still have a list of 'those I didn't get round to' so maybe they'll be here next year.

Anyway, here are my Top Ten Halloween reads, and a short story collection ..or four. Some of these are stories with very definite ghostly presences, some just exude a feeling of dread, some hint at a world beyond our own which slips past the veil from time to time .... and some aren't scary at all ...

First, proper ghostly, scary stuff ... where better to start than Sugar Hall with its slave boy returned to haunt the descendants of the family which once owned him ... I've read and re-read this, and it doesn't fail to chill.

Another mysterious house, David Mitchell's  Slade House lies hidden up a narrow alleyway, but every nine years it entices someone inside its walls - and they're never seen again... need I say more?

Marcus Sedgwick is best known for his gothic thrillers for children and teens (though many of those, especially  My Swordhand Is Singing , could have made it onto this list) but A Love Like Blood  is an adult read, a tale of vampires and obsession, exploring the depths that love, fear and revenge may drag us into.

It's back to the haunted house theme with Chris Priestley's The Dead of Winter - although a teen/YA read, the only things that mark this as such are the main character's age, and a lack of gratuitous violence. It ticks all the boxes for a chilling ghostly read - a lonely house, secret rooms, noises in the night, and a growing sense of something evil waiting for the unwary. I definitely felt a chill crawling up my spine as I read it!
Another book for teens but quite scary enough for me! The Creeper Man by Dawn Kurtagich - nearer to 'horror' than a 'ghost story' it tells of two sisters who seek refuge in their aunt's country manor, another isolated house, this time surrounded by impenetrable woods, where The Creeper Man lurks and bides his time. The trees begin to creep nearer, the sense of claustrophobia builds and the horrors outside start to work their way in ...

Not all ghosts have to be scary and/or evil - so two 'different' ghostly tales

In A Ghost's Story Lorna Gibb brings back to life 'superstar' spirit Katie King, star of Victorian seances. Told from Katie's point of view, this is actually a very human story of a search for companionship and even love.

Lucy Wood's Weathering is a story of mothers and daughters, about home and belonging - told through the relationship between three generations of women, it just happens that one, Pearl, is a ghost. Poetic prose, close observation, a stream-of-consciousness style, all make this a delight to read.

Vampires, zombies and flesh-eaters - well, Halloween wouldn't be the same without them ...

The Radleys are nice, middle-class suburban vampires hiding in plain sight. Acting the part of a normal couple, they share many of the problems that normal couples have - getting middle-aged, looking back with nostalgia to their long lost youth, and coping with their teenage children. Yes, it's about vampires but also about that average family that they're trying so hard to be.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - to be honest the title says it all. Seth Grahame-Smith takes Jane Austen's original, works in some extra zombie-killing action, and there you are! One for if you don't mind classic literature being taken a little less than seriously.

Sweeny Todd meets Desperate Housewives in Natalie Young's tale of middle-aged, Volvo driving Lizzie Prain, who murders her husband and then is needs to dispose of the body - again, it's all in the title!  Season To Taste, or How To Eat Your Husband

So, I've managed to whittle it down to ten top novels, but there's still space for some otherworldly story collections. I've always loved Mrs Gaskell's Curious, If True collection and these all share that ambivalence about what is real, and what imagined...

Sing Sorrow, Sorrow - a chilling collection from Seren Books, drawing on the darker side of folk tales.

 The Woman Under the Ground, and other stories - dark, disturbing, don't read in the dark tales by Megan Taylor

The Other World, It Whispers by Stephanie Victoire - a bit of a cheat, as this isn't published till mid-November. Maybe a little less scary than some, these nine spine-tingling stories tread the fine line between this world and the other.

And last, and by no means least, I had to include this  - The Penguin Book of Classic Fantasy by Women. It includes ghostly stories from Mary Shelly, George Eliot, Edith Nesbit, Virginia Woolfe, Isak Dinesen, and, my favourite, Katherine Mansfield's parable-style story, A Suburban Fairy Tale; it's not so spooky as some, but carries a message as important today as in 1917 when it was first published.

Now .., what do you think I should have read?


  1. I prefer not to scare myself, but i would prefer to read a book like this rather than watch a movie #tweenteensbeyond

    1. I find a lot of horror movies too extreme to take seriously, but certainly with a book you can put it down for a while if it becomes TOO gruesome or scary. Thanks for commenting x

  2. I am not a great fun of horror books or movies - I think I scared myself too much as a teen. Out of this list I think I would lean towards Weathering - sounds an interesting and not too gory twist on a scary theme! Great ideas here Mary. #TweensTeensBeyond

    1. Weathering isn't gory at all, Jo, so you'd be safe :) Pearl is more of a helpful ghostly presence, than a scary one. Thanks for dropping by and commenting x

  3. This is such a useful list. I'm a member of a bookclub and we are always looking for recommendations so this is perfect for me! I love the look of A Ghost's Story. Thanks so much for sharing with us at #TweensTeensBeyond

    1. Thanks for dropping by and commenting Sharon. Hope you find something good and scary to read ... #tweensteensbeyond

  4. Wow Mary, you like a scary one don't you. Brave lady. I am going to revisit this list though but I am a bit of a baby. Looking for some new book candy at the mo #tweensteensbeyond byut not as much as I am looking forward to seeing Paddington Bear at the weekend!!!

    1. Hi Nicky,thanks for commenting. If you don't like scary reads try The Radleys. It's definitely the most appropriate for #Tweensteensbeyond as, despite the Radleys being vampires, they face a lot of the parent/teen problems that anyone does :)