Review of Eerie

EerieSometime ago, I wrote a review of Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings. In the review I refer to book’s foreword, written by author Stephen Graham Jones. Jones’ delineates between two types of haunted houses. There are houses that want you to stay away (i.e. The Amityville Horror house, remember the famous “Get out!” line?) and there are houses that want to imprison you within their walls (i.e. the Burnt Offerings house – it feeds on the essence of its occupants.)  The house that is the subject of this review is definitely of the latter kind.  Its occupants become violently ill when they attempt to leave! There seems to be a powerful spirit at work here.  Its behavior is rather…’creepy’? Nah, that word better describes some hall-traipsing spirit inside a Gothic mansion. This novel is not the Gothic type; after all it takes place on a modern urban street. The spirit – if that’s what it is – has some rather uncanny needs and…I KNOW! Rather than call it “creepy,” its behavior can be summed up as “eerie.”  I am right, you know why? Because that is the title of the book that I am reviewing.  Eerie  by Blake and Jordon Crouch.

The coauthors are brothers with Blake being the more famous of the two. As far as I know, this is the only book that Blake has written with his brother but I could be wrong. I have read enough of Blake’s work to be familiar with his style, which I admire very much, and I’m glad that I can feature one of his books on this page. See, I would not assign Blake to the paranormal genre. Heck I wouldn’t even call him a horror writer. He’s more of the fantasy/thriller type that dabbles in several genres, including sci/fi and horror. Oh and mystery! So much mystery! But “Eerie” meets my criteria for a haunted house novel, although I’m not sure the brothers would consider the novel as such.  I certainly don’t believe that they set out to write a haunted house novel. Instead, I would guess that they created an “eerie” set of conditions that necessitated a house with unexplainable phenomenon.

The book opens with a tragedy. A father and his two children, a boy and a girl (Grant and Paige), are victims of a near fatal car accident. The father is incapacitated, leaving his children to face the cruelty of homelessness and then later the burdens that come with being wards of the state.  Fast-forward several years. The adult brother and sister are estranged.  Grant is a detective involved in missing persons’ cases. Several prominent men have disappeared. He follows the clues and they lead him to his Paige’s house. Before this, he didn’t know where his sister was living.  Their reunion is at first hostile as they rehash old tensions.  But they learn to make nice and they rediscover their brotherly and sisterly bonds. They will need these bonds and much more to fight against the strange forces that hold them hostage at Paige’s house.

Grant and Paige are refreshingly flawed characters. There are no heroes or distressed damsels. Both are likeable in their flaws. In sum they are great characters. Paige is a drug-addicted prostitute.  Grant is an alcoholic who has frequented prostitutes from time to time.  This “frequenting” causes him dissonance when he objects to his sister’s profession. As it turns out, all the men from Grant’s case file, the men that had gone missing, are clients of Paige. They had gone missing as soon as they left Paige’s upstairs bedroom.  Something in that room took over their minds. As if under a spell, they left the premises, not to return to their homes or jobs.  They went – somewhere.  This same presence traps Paige in her own home. It demands that she continue to bring men to her room. Grant too discovers that he is unable to leave.  Both succumb to severe nausea and vertigo when they stray a few feet from the front door. The further they stray from the door the worse the feel.

The book begins as a detective story and continues as such but it later invokes the paranormal and the strange in a way that is uncommon in crime novels. It’s quite the mixture of genres. One classification I might assign it is “Paranormal & Urban”, although Amazon doesn’t assign it as such. (Paranormal & Urban is a legit Amazon genre classification.)

I like Eerie a lot. But I have some reservations about the book. In order for me to explain what they are I first need to go into more detail about what I like about Blake Crouch’s stories in general.

Blake Crouch creates scenarios that are similar to Twilight Zone  plots. These scenarios unfurl in rather unique and well thought-out ways.  I would say that this unfurling EeriePinesprocess shows off Crouch’s greatest strength. Thus I knight him: “The Earl of The Unfurl.”  What unfolds in his novels is unpredictable and highly imaginative. The answers to the mysteries are elaborate and yet plausible within the context of the overall story. This is certainly true for his Wayward Pines saga, which was my introduction to the world of Blake Crouch. This three-book series begins with a federal agent that has a car accident and wakes up in a hospital in a strange town. He recovers fine but the townsfolk won’t let him leave this “gated” community; gated by a tall electric security fence. He fights his way to the other side of the fence, only to encounter a never-ending mountainous wilderness populated with strange creatures.  What the heck is going on? The luckiest guess might slacken the suspense a tiny bit but it will not eerieAbandonBetterunravel the entire mystery. (this is also a television series on Fox ) Likewise with his novel Abandon. In the novel, explorers set out to investigate the remains of an isolated gold-mining town that “disappeared” in the late 1800s. In this mountainous and blizzard-prone region, the people had seemingly vanished in thin air. Their possessions were left behind, uneaten meals were found on their tables, but no bodies or even bones were ever found.  How could this be? Is this the work of aliens? Spirits? Two stories unfold in this novel– one that takes place in present time with modern day explorers trying to figure out had happened and one that takes place in the far away past, just before the events that led to the disappearance.  By the books end, I was like “Aha! This is what happened! How clever!”  The Earl of The Unfurl had struck again!

I’ve established quite the criteria for ol’ Blake. Now here are the big questions – Does  “Eerie” hold up?  Does the collaborative effort of the two Crouch brothers earn them the title “The Earls of The Unfurl.”  The answers – Almost, but not quite.   The Crouches have certainly created an imaginative scenario – a force of some kind that prevents some people from leaving a house while sending others away as mindless zombies; that is quite the situation. But the “Unfurl” is a bit disappointing. To be fair, the guts of the mystery are rather unique. Maybe they’re too unique, I don’t know. I was looking for a different kind of explanation.  In order to understand what I mean you’ll have to read the book.

In the end what I’m saying is this: I didn’t like the final destination but I sure as hell enjoyed the trip. It was fun and exciting and I enjoyed the characters very much.  Also I enjoyed the afterword (I’m not sure they call it that, but it’s after the main story). Blake and Jordon have a written dialogue with each other. It’s as if they are interviewing each other, going over what they liked about the collaboration process, what changes they had made to the story.  They share with readers their bond as brothers and I appreciate this offering very much. Readers are left with a sense of warmth, which comes in handy on cold days.

 

 

 

 

Review of “The Haunting of..” series by Blair Shaw

BlairShawBooks

There are houses. There are hauntings.  There are hauntings that take place in houses. A fitting book title for this kind of thing might be The Haunting of ( *insert name of house here*). There are several (tens? Hundreds? ) novels that make use of this title template. That’s understandable. After all, it is practical. It communicates to prospective readers what they need to know.  In a nutshell it states – “if you’re looking for a haunted house novel, you have come to the right place”.

I’ve explored several books that make use of the “The Haunting of ..” template right here in this blog. The most noteworthy, in my opinion, is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Read and reviewed here!) I’ve also explored several titles from Darcy Coates (The Haunting of Ashburn House , The Haunting of Blackwood House, The Haunting of Gillespie House)  For my next “The Haunting of…” excursion, I turn to Blair Shaw.  When I began reading her works, she had three published novellas. They are are The Haunting of Hainesbury House, The Haunting of Ingleton House,   and The Haunting of Bramley House, all of which can be found at Blair Shaw’s Amazon Page.

I am including all three in this one review.  Why not give each book its own review?  Two reasons #1) They are very short reads. #2) They all follow the same formula.

Here is the formula.  The book(s) begin(s) in England in the distant past inside a house that is named after its owners. Cruelty and murder have claimed the lives of some of the inhabitants. Fastfoward  a hundred years or so. A woman is leaving her home in the United States,  fleeing a sad past and facing a new adventure on the otherside of the Atlanic.  Sometimes she has offspring to care for, other times no.  She moves into a large manor in England, the same manor where the deadly tragedy took place. Of course, the place is haunted by the spirit/s of those that perished in the tragedy.  Their disturbances are rather bothersome and in some cases deadly. Luckily, there is a way to rid the house of these spirits. In each case, (in each book), the American Woman figures out what needs to be done. She fixes it so that the spirits can pass on to their eternal home. Then she (and sometimes her offspring) lives happily ever after. The end.

While working out the framework for this review, I returned to Shaw’s Amazon Page and learned that she has since put out two more “The Haunting Of….” Books:  They are The Haunting of Addison House  (Date of publication March 31) and The Haunting of Morgan House (Date of publication April 16). She’s cranking these out faster than a ghost in a speed machine. However, I am not rushing to read these latest editions.  After reading the three, I’m in the mood for something; shall we say “meatier”?

These aren’t bad books.  I prefer something a little less formulaic, but nevertheless the stories are engaging.  Shaw is a good writer; she expresses herself clearly and concisely.  But I would equate these novellas to appetizers. These are stories to read in between books. They are like the “shorts” that used to premiere before the main movie back in the golden age of film. I make these comparisons not only because they are short reads. I use these analogies to equate the level of depth as well. These are simple reads. There aren’t any twists; nothing profound is going on here.  But not everything is designed to be a masterpiece.

I will say this – what I like best about her novellas is the beginnings, the prologues (although they aren’t labeled as such) that tell the historical backstory. Shaw has a talent for making me feel a home in a different time period.  They describe the feeling of the times well without resorting to archaic language. Perhaps I will make the time to read the rest her novellas – someday.  They did seem to get better with succession.  I just wish Shaw would write a longer, meatier book.  She has it her, I just know it!

Review of Haunted

HauntedThorns and Cross – sounds like I’m about to embark upon a seasonally appropriate Easter theme post, doesn’t it? Christ wearing the crown of thorns, Christ nailed to a cross, etc. etc. and etc.  All on account of a typo. Damn that “s” for being so close to the the “e” on the keyboard!  Let’s remove the “s” in “Thorns” and replace it with the correct “e” and we now have Thorne and Cross – two authors who often partner together to write Gothic ghost stories. I first discovered them when I read and reviewed one of their works: The Ghosts of Ravencrest.  I found the book very much to my liking.

Having familiarized myself with the pair, I decided to dissect the duo.  By this I mean that I wanted to read their “solo” novels.  I began with Haunted  by Tamara Throne.  Overall, I enjoyed it.  I will explain why but first let me establish the novel’s setting and describe the house that is at the center of the story.

 

David Masters, best selling author of paranormal books, moves to a Victorian mansion off the coasts of California known as Baudey House.  Yes, it is haunted. He knows it too. Or at least he expects it to be haunted; that what the rumors say anyway. As a paranormal kinda’ guy, it’s what he wants.  The house is part of an odd seaside community that is a mixture of cantankerous yokels and new age flakes. Nearby the house is a lighthouse haunted by a headless ghost. And there are plenty more where that (or in this case, “he”) came from! Inside the Baudey House there are spirits, some of which are visual echoes that can only be perceived by those that that have sixth sense. Others are more interactive – more deadly!  There are certain rooms where presences are so strongly felt that it is impossible to remain inside of them for any length of time.  Somewhere in the house there is a secret passage that leads to a dungeon. It is up to Masters to find it. Then there are ceramic, hand-made dolls hidden in various places throughout the house. How weird is that!

Did I mention the murders? At different times over the course of more than one hundred years, grizzly murders have occurred inside the house.  Bodies were found in various states of dismemberment. It is no wonder Baudey House became known as “Body House.”

Let me now describe the things I find most appealing about this book. The first has to do with the overall story.  Thorne serves up a “full meal of a plot” with several interesting angles, many well-rounded characters, numerous situations of captivating drama, and a compelling but chilling backstory. If I had to choose one word to summarize the story, that world would be “fulfilling.”

My second piece of praise is more specific. Of all the authors that have dealt with the subject of “cold spots”, I find Thorne’s descriptions to be the most visceral, which for me translates to “frightfully descriptive.”

Cold spots, according to the According to the Associations of the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena:

“… are small areas (usually a lot smaller than a room) that feel significantly colder than the surrounding area. They are considered by some to be a sign of a ghost in the area. Some cold spots are always felt in the same place while others seem to appear and disappear at different locations.”

Thorne’s accounts of cold spots are gripping, literally so; when her characters encounter them, they feel their chilling presences closing in on their bodies.  First, there’s the drop in temperature, then there’s the gripping sensation, next come paralysis and finally their bodies are vulnerable to possession!

Alas, the novel has its shortcomings. Quite often, without warning, the third person narrative slips into a first person perspective. This happens in the middle of paragraphs of all places!  Sometimes I found myself at the end of a sentence before realizing that I was reading the character’s thoughts.  Italics go a long way! Perhaps this is a formatting issue; maybe the italics disappeared when the original file was converted to an e-file. Even so, it would have been helpful if the phrases that represented thought had their own lines.

All in all, this a good book.  One Thorne down, once Cross to go! I’m not sure if Alistair Cross  has written a haunted house book. I might just have to bite the bullet and “read outside the house”.

Review of The Castle of Otranto

castleofotrantoI’m willing to bet that the following themes are all too familiar – Kingdom vs. Kingdom. A despotic Prince.   Underground passageways. A fleeing princess. Knights on the hunt. Dire prophesies.  A castle haunted with phantoms. Have I listed enough clichés?

All of these motifs are found in Horace Walpole’s novel “The Castle of Otranto”. But let’s give the guy a break. After all, he wrote this piece back in 1764.   Long before George R. R. Martin had his Game of Thrones, sooner than J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, previous to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, prior to Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolfo, Walpole wrote this fantasy novel about a time long ago (even in 1764 it was a period piece); a time of knights and kingdoms, princesses and perils, all wrapped up in a story that is sprinkled with ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. Mind you, he had his predecessors. Shakespeare was writing of kingdoms and ghosts in the 16th and the stories of King Arthur and The Knights of the Roundtable date back to the 11th and 12th century. However, Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto is credited as the very first gothic novel.

What does it mean to be the first “gothic novel?” Well let us see what the with the fine men and women of wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, the novel, establishes:

“many of the plot devices and character-types that would become typical of the Gothic: secret passages, clanging trapdoors, pictures that begin to move, and doors that close by themselves.”

But what makes this novel standout among other fantasy and frightful novels of its time is its unique method of blending the fantastic with the mundane. Supposedly in the late 1700s, stories of the supernatural were considered “old school” (They probably had a different term for it, but you catch my drift).  Modern tales of romance and adventure were allegedly devoid of such supernatural themes and focused more on believable foes and realistic conflicts.  By mixing the two literary strands, Walpole establishes what has come to be a defining theme for Gothic literature – traces of the past making their way into the modern world. Looking at the gothic haunted house stories that come later, this theme bears out over and over –  curses born in the past that claim the lives of future generations, justice for sins committed long ago coming for the heirs of the original sinner; ghosts returning from the graves to haunt the living.

Wadpole, a British politician, was a fan of the ancient medieval period, so much so that he had a castle built to replicate a palace of yore. It’s called Strawberry Hill House and it still stand today, although it has gone through much renovation. In writing “The Castle of Otranto,” Wadpole tried to imitate the style of speech from the medieval era. In its initial publication, Wadpole included a preface that made is seem as if his tale was an ancient one, written in the sixteenth century.

Fascination for the ways of yore, nostalgia for periods of we never knew – this is at the heart of Gothic literature. What are ghosts but fanciful beings from times long gone!

So, how much of this novel is dedicated to ghosts and other things that go bump in the night? I’d say there is a smidgen of these elements. Maybe more.   Phantoms and other mysterious things pop in and out of this story. Lord Manfred, a ruthless tyrant, arranges a marriage between his son Conrad and the maiden Isabella in order to unite two kingdoms. However, before the marriage is to take place, a giant helmet falls from nowhere and crushes him. Paranormal event #1.   Lord Manfeld then takes it upon himself to have Isabella as his own. But not if she can help it. She flees through an underground passage. Lord Manfeld chases her while the painted image of his grandfather flees the portrait and interferes in the chase. Paranormal event #2.

More story follows, but I’m not going to go into much detail. There are battles. There is a love story, and there are more supernatural events; inhabitants of the castle see a giant foot that occupies an entire room, a specter in dark clothes kneels before an altar. Some of these occurrences are rather bizarre to say the least.

As to the claim that this tale deposits the supernatural into “realistic situations”, I don’t really see it. I’m not saying that this isn’t happening. It’s just that I am so far removed from the writing style of the eighteenth century and I’m a complete novice when it comes to the “ordinary, day to day life” of the royal classes of medieval society. Therefore, I’m not attuned to the supposed “realism” that is going on here. “Realism” to me is a Stephen King story, where there might be a guy in a baseball cap chomping down on a Mars candy bar at gas station and sipping his bottle of Dr. Pepper, all while speaking in local slang.   In Wadpole’s work, the characters speak in a theatrical style.  Formal, long-winded salutations seem to invade nearly every sentence of the dialogue.  The heroes and heroines always have the noblest of intentions.

I can’t say that this novel thrilled me to death. The story is fair. However, I did learn a lot from reading the book and doing research for this article. I have a better understanding of the foundations of gothic literature and I have learned a great deal about the evolution of literary styles. For this I am thankful. And onward I will go, digesting more works within the Gothic genre. Some I will like, others not so much. But I look forward to the rewarding experience. You too can have such an experience. Just pick up a book and read, read, read!

 

Review of The Ghosts of Ravencrest

ravencrestOn the very first page of this blog, I state that this haunted house project is a learning exercise that leads to an exploration of various genres of literature. Here in the intro I have written:

“From the stone castles of the old world to the suburban units of the new, a haunting we will go!   We will tread across various genres; unveiling the ghosts of Gothic novels, dissecting the creatures of Cosmic horror, and exorcising demons from modern film lore.”

By golly, I really mean what I say! I am exploring new things and I love it. For example, by studying a specific subgenre (i.e. classic haunted house stories), I have been turned on to Gothic literature in general.  As to the defining characteristics of Gothic literature, I am still learning. This is a topic for another article.  But even the layperson has a rudimentary understanding of some of the aspects of Gothic tales. Upon hearing the words “gothic literature,” people think of stone castles, dark romances, and wealthy heirs that are tied to their familial lineages.

Now, some might be tempted to restrict gothic tales to the 18th and 19th centuries; an era of rapid and sometimes unwelcome change (urbanization/ industrialization/modernization), for which Gothic novels had offered fanciful escape with their stories of the days or yore. (Okay NOW I’m treading too deep into the weeds. Come back!)  Thankfully, there are authors that keep this genre alive here in the 21st century. Authors such as, oh, I dunno, say…Tamara Thorne  and Alastair Cross.  They have successfully transposed the old world into the new – brick by brick, for the mansion that is at the center of their story has been relocated from old world Europe to the modern U.S.A. Included in this move are the ghosts that had been haunting the mansion. Over time, new ghosts moved in as well.  You can learn all about The Ghosts of Ravencrest  by reading their book.

Their book is filled with delicious gothic delights. As mentioned, it has the ghosts, but there is much more. There are witches and spells, misshapen creatures, and statues that come to life.  The Ravenscrest mansion has a wing that is locked away – for there are strange things afoot in this side of the building.  There is an interesting staff of characters; a charming and witty butler, and evil and jealous administrator, an innocent governess, who is the main protagonist of the story.  There are other intriguing staff members as well, and they all serve Eric Manning, widower and heir to a family business that has been operational for a couple of centuries.   In the middle of the book, the authors take us back in time to late 16th century Europe, where we meet Manning’s ancestors and learn of the origin of this terror that haunts Ravencrest.

“The Ghosts of Ravencrest” also has romance; a budding love story. Did I mention sex? It’s got that as well, in all its most erotic forms. Yes, it has BDSM.  For those that love that kind of thing, you will enjoy these parts of the story. For those that don’t, just put up with it, okay? It’s not a pervasive thing and there is so much more to the story, so please don’t let some hangup ruin this terrific piece work. As for me, I didn’t think the sex added anything to the story. But it didn’t steal from the story either, and that’s the important thing.

I say give it a try. You can sample it piece by piece if you like. It is broken up into eight novellas. All are available at Amazon for 99 cents a piece. As for me, I took the express lane to the end with no stops in between. In other words, you can purchase the whole collection as on book. But this will be “Book 1”.  The next book is “The Witches of Ravencrest.”.  Four novellas are already available for purchase, but I’m going to wait until all are available and then buy the whole collection.


I’d like to focus a little on the authors. Tamara Thorne has been writing best sellers since  thronecrossthe 1990s.  Alistair Cross came on the scene a little later.  Both are avid fans of ghost stories and gothic literature.  The two met one day and they decided to write as a team. I’ve always wondered how co-authoring worked!  Does one author write one chapter, and the other the next, continuing in this pattern until the book’s end?  The result of this method might be a “run-on” story; directionless, since each author grabs the helm at indiscriminate moments. Another method is for one author to do most of the work while the other adds a couple of ideas here and there, but they both end up getting co-author credit. But this doesn’t seem fair.

Thankfully, Thorne and Cross have found another way to work together.

During an interview, they explain their method. Via Skype, they write together in real time -electronic face to electronic face. They use Google Docs which allows them to write and edit the same document at the same time.   They spend several hours a day at this activity.

Thorne and Cross collaborate on other ventures as well. On Thursday evenings, they host an internet radio show, Haunted Nights Live.  On the show they read ghost stories and interview guest authors. Some of the guests include V.C. Andrews (Flowers in the Attic), Christopher Rice (son of Anne Rice), and Scott Nicholson (I have reviewed three of his books at this blog).

I’ve just discovered these two, and…I don’t know…they intrigue me. Maybe they have cast a spell on me or something. They would be the ones who could do it too, for they seem to live their daily lives in the macabre, constantly surrounded by a gothic vibe –  choose a phrase, you know what I mean. Together, they have gone on excursions of paranormal investigation. The collect little toy trolls. They love cats, a gothic animal if there ever was one. They are living their passions!

So, enjoy some of the forbidden fruits of their beloved labor. Visit their blogs. I have given you several links, and here is another. Listen to their show and buy, buy buy their books!

Review of Hauntings: Three Haunted House Novellas

hauntingsSomewhere out there in Facebook land, in one of the many groups to which I belong, I came across a post that was advertising a free book!  We indie authors are forced to give away books from time to time order to gain exposure. The title grabbed me right away: Hauntings: Three Haunted House Novellas.  Now how can a haunted house guy like me pass on this? I couldn’t.  So I downloaded it, read it, overall I liked it, and now I’m reviewing it.  Thus, the authors’ giveaway campaign has bared some fruit.  Not that my review equates to an orchard of apples or anything.  At least, put me down as one single peach!

As with other anthologies, there are some stories that I prefer over others. But I’m not going to delve into the nitty-gritties of my individual preferences. They are purely subjective and would negate from the fact that all these stories have their strengths. Like the three legs of a tripod, they have a solid-enough structure to support the novel as a whole.  And it doesn’t matter so much that these legs aren’t examples of the most innovative feats in engineering!  They are standard legs, standard stories – but they do their job.  Perhaps they can use a bit of polishing here and there (another round of editing). But as an indie author myself; I know how difficult editing can be (especially when you can’t afford a professional).

What I would like to do is: very briefly, I will summarize each story and then itemize the elements that stand out; the story components that have made a lasting impression on my memory.

First there is The Haunting of Monroe House by Olivia Harlowe.  A pregnant couple rents a house in the country. Is it haunted, or is there something about Sam’s pregnancy that is making everything so – strange? Here are the things that stand out – the peacocks, that scary closet, those wall-scratching noises, the farmer and his wife; an interesting couple indeed; characters well written.

Second there is The Haunting of Briarwood Lodge by Violet Archer. Colin inherits a lodge house that is the taboo of the town. No one will go near it. Except a young woman named Juno.  Together, Colin and Juno explore the strange happenings that are going on at Briarwood Lodge.  Here are the things that stand out – The attic window,  the corridors, that circle of chairs, the poltergeist-style activity. Oh, and how the house can, at will, lock its inhabitants inside!

Third, there is The Haunting of Briarwood Lodge by Mason Graves. Tom and Rebecca move into a new home. Tom is spooked by the stories surrounding the history of the house. Rebecca dismisses them as myths.  Who is correct?  Here are the things that stand out – Tom’s journey into the crawlspace, the mystery surrounding the original owners of the house, and the weird old lady that stalks the house.

All in all, this is a fun read.  Perhaps there will be more haunted house tales to come from this trio?   There is a website that hints at this, although it is a bit empty at the moment.

http://hauntedhousenovels.com/

Also, Violet Archer has many creepy short stories (each several paragraphs long) at her blog

https://violetarcher.com/blog/

Enjoy!

Review of Smee (A Christmas Ghost Story By A.M. Burrage)

smeeGoosebumps! (Uh…what?)  You heard me. Goosebumps!  (I don’t get it). These little shits crawled all over my skin as I read this delightful tale. And when I listened to an audio arrangement of the story, with creepy sound effects and all, these bumps honked like a mudda’ goose!

The story I am referring to is “Smee” by A.M Burrage, which was originally published as part of a collection in the book Someone in the Room, 1931.

(To  read it online. Check out  http://www.scaryforkids.com/smee/ )

(To listen to the story, check out this narration from David Lewis Richardson

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muJyiMMAfTk )

(Was it really so scary that if caused goosebumps?) Well, it was scary. Scarier than some, less scary than others. (Was it, I don’t know, touching?) Well, people touched a ghost now and then, it that’s what you mean. (What I mean is, “What’s with the goosebumps?!”).  The overall concept of this story gave them to me!  Twelve friends playing a hide-and-seek type game inside a huge, dark house, and then suddenly – there is this mysterious thirteenth player that hides with them!  This description alone should be enough to tickle a whole assortment of inner senses.  But then there’s more.  To complete the story is to witness multiple rounds of this game; numerous chilling adventures to court your most precious fancies.

The story takes place on Christmas Eve.  It is a story within a story.  Tony Jackson is forced to explain to his friends why he wishes not to partake in their post-dinner, hide-and-seek game. To explain his hesitancy, he relays a story of a Christmas Eve past, where, after dining, he and eleven friends play a game called “Smee!,” which is similar to hide-and-seek.  The name is based on the phonetic similarities to the phrase “It’s me!” One person per game bares the title “Smee.” No one knows the identity of “Smee” except for the one that chooses the card that assigns that person the title.   “Smee” then hides and the others seek. When a seeker encounters another player, s/he calls out “Smee?” If the other player replies with “Smee!”, the seeker moves on.  When the real “Smee” is found, s/he is silent when asked about his/her identity. The finder then joins Smee in hiding and waits. Soon, all the players except for one will be hiding with Smee.  The last player to find “Smee” (and the rest of the party) is the loser.

Poor Jackson had a frightening experience playing that game on that particular Christmas Eve.  It just so happened that a ghost had joined in the game!

At the beginning of every game, the one who is “Smee” leaves the group to hide. Now, wouldn’t the players see the one who leaves? If they were not witnesses to “Smee’s” departure, wouldn’t they still be able to deduce the identity of the absent player by process of elimination? In order for this game to work, the house had to be pretty damn dark so that no one can see each other!  And so it is in this tale. Also, the house has to be big. Once again, the house in the story meets the requirements.  There are many hiding places in the numerous rooms and corridors. The host warns that, due to certain constructional patterns, some of the areas in the house can lead to danger if one is not careful, especially when roaming around in the dark. Now, isn’t this just the perfect setting and situation to add such haunting delights?

Let me refer back to the article I wrote several days ago, Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses. In the article, while borrowing from other sources, I describe the setting of a Christmas Haunted House.  I rephrase a section of Keith Lee Moris’s article:

 “Winter’s ability to capture our imagination is at its strongest precisely when we are the farthest slightly removed from its more harmful elements.”

Then I go on to say (in my words):

Let’s say, perhaps, that our frolicking friends are feeling “warmly vulnerable” during a ghost story session at a Christmas Eve gathering. Let’s remove the last visages of safety and allow winter’s symbolic doom to come inside. It’s warm. Festive. Have a drink. Merry Christmas! Fires. Games. Ghost stories. And then – real ghosts haunt the house. Frightful! This is what I would call A Christmas Haunted House.

In other words, A Christmas ghost story with a haunted house usually begins in a warm house where a festive party is taking place. This party distracts the characters from the darkest elements of winter – in the beginning. But as the story unfolds, the harshness of the season creeps inside (symbolically), often in the form of a ghost.

Stories of ghosts invading Christmas celebrations are perhaps reflective of our ancient ancestors’ struggle against the forces of nature at winter solstice.

In my article, I argue:

 During the festive solstice celebrations, the lingering darkness and the bitter cold continued exert their powers.  These forces surrounded their fragile, festival fires, where the celebrants sought warmth and light.

Soon the fires would be extinguished. But the darkness and the cold temperatures would remain. 

“Smee” certainly deals with the “dangers of darkness” theme.  Here we have a group of  smee-coverfriends celebrating Christmas – a holiday known for its colorful lights. They have already dined and are feeling quite cheerful. They then test their fragile bubble of festivity by eliminating the light. They find themselves in darkness, which is always present underneath the light. And with the darkness comes frightening entities.

There is very little mention of the weather in this story.  We truly don’t know if “the weather outside is frightful.”   However, during the game, one of the players mentions that she would rather play a quiet game beside the fire where it is warm. So to a small extent, cold temperatures contribute to the overall sense of gloom.

“Smee” offers the ultimate Christmas haunted house. It is dutifully dark and sprawling with passages. Complying with the archetypal Christmas ghost story irony, the frightful exploration of the house is all part of a jovial, holiday game.  “Oh what they find is frightful, but the story is so delightful.”  Yes it is! Turn on your Christmas/holiday lights, shut off all other lighting and listen to this story.  It will be fun!

Review of A Strange Christmas Game

strangechristmasgame2

Folks, we have approached a milestone.   This will be the first piece of ghostly literature for which I have listened to a narrator speak the story to me.  I followed along with the text on a website as an audio file played on.  The story is “A Strange Christmas Game” by J.H. Riddell, (a.k.a. Charlotte Riddell) 1863. You too can read and/or listen to this story.  Just click on the link below and listen and listen as famed author and storyteller Michael Whitehouse narrates the story narrates the story.

http://www.vaultofghastlytales.com/2015/12/a-strange-christmas-games-by-j-h-riddell.html

I found several versions of the telling on the internet, each varying in wording. I wasn’t sure which was the best, most true to the original source, etc. But in the end I paid it no mind and just settled on a version that is hosted by www.vaultofghastlytales.com

Followers of my blog, surely by now you have read my recent article Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses? Here is in excerpt from that article:

“Let’s say, perhaps, that our frolicking friends are feeling “warmly vulnerable” during a ghost story session at a Christmas Eve gathering. Let’s remove the last visages of safety and allow winter’s symbolic doom to come inside. It’s warm. Festive. Have a drink. Merry Christmas! Fires. Games. Ghost stories. And then – real ghosts haunt the house. Frightful! This is what I would call A Christmas Haunted House.

People of days past used to tell ghosts during the cold winter. Winter was perceived as dark, dreary and scary. At Christmas Eve gatherings, celebrants would eat, drink and be merry. They would play games. And… they would tell ghost stories. Ghost stories are fun when one is beside a warm fire and in the accompaniment of family and friends; feeling all warm and cozy, while the threat of winter rages outside their windows.  A story of a Christmas Haunted House takes advantage of the characters’ fragile coziness. They are feeling festive and carefree, just like the real life folks that gather around a fire to hill a grisly take. But the doom and gloom of winter invades their celebration in the form of ghosts. Their gathering is soon invaded my scary phantoms.

Does “A Strange Christmas Game” meet these criteria? I say – Mostly.

In the tale, brother and sister inherit a manor, Martingdale, which is supposedly haunted. strangechristmasgameMany years ago, original owner Jeremy Lester is playing cards with his friend on Christmas Eve. The clock strikes midnight, Lester’s guest leaves to go home. Out against the brutal elements of winter he wanders, but it is Jeremy that is never heard from again!

Has the winter doom invaded Lester’s home and whooshed him away?  Not exactly. When one reads further into the story, a different situation arises. But at this point, the story teases us with the “wintertime ghostly home-invader” scenario. However, it does address the Christmas ghost story theme of “game time gone ghostly.”

For sure, the dreariness of winter plays out symbolically within the story – within the house.  For instance, here is an excerpt from the book that points to this:

Altogether, Martingdale seemed dreary enough, and the ghost stories we had laughed at while sunshine flooded the rooms became less unreal when we had nothing but blazing fires and wax candles to dispel the gloom.

When summer ends and winter begins, brother and sister hear footsteps in the night, along with other strange noises. Is this the doings of the spirit of Jeremy Lester?  Read or listen to the story and find out for yourself. But one thing for certain – their home is haunted by ghosts that invade on Christmas Eve. However, the ghosts are not interrupting any Christmas festivities. Brother and Sister have been a wee bit too scared to be concentrating on Christmas.

Another thing to note; at the story’s climax, a snowstorm breaks out.  There hasn’t been such a storm for forty one years. –The last winter storm occurrs on the same night that Jeremy Lester disappears – on Christmas Eve.

This is a fun story. And it mostly meets my Christmas Haunted House criteria. Now, by all means, J. H. Riddell was under no obligation to adhere to the dictates of my half-baked analysis of Christmas haunted houses in literature. Afterall, I came up with them one hundred and fifty years or more after this story was published (with the help of others of course!)

I hope you give this tale a listen, a read, or both.  It’s a perfect story to ingest on a cold, winter’s evening.

Review of The Haunting of Ashburn House

ashburn

The Haunting of Ashburn House is the third book I am reviewing from the talented Darcy Coates.  I am now officially up-to-date with the “Haunting of” series. (The other two, in   order of publication, are The Haunting of Gillespie House and  The Haunting of Blackwood House.) Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word “series.”  Each book is a stand-alone story. However, there is a formula that persists in all the stories – a young female protagonist either rents or takes ownership of multi-floor house that ends up being haunted. In each case, she is not only new to the house but also to the community at large. In each house, there are mysterious items that pique the curiosity of the new occupants’. These items are related to the haunting that is to take place.

To clarify, I am not using the term “formula” in a bad way. The scenarios are the same, but the specific plot points vary from book to book with different facts and outcomes.  They are not without twists.  The Haunting of Ashburn House in particular does have an interesting turn of events.

Here’s a short synopsis.  Adrienne has inherited an enormous and ancient manor from her Great Aunt Edith, who has recently passed away. Little does she know that she has also inherited several odd duties that are necessary if she is to live safely at Ashburn House What do I mean by “safely?” I mean – guarding against the paranormal dangers that will threaten her. Little my little, she comes to understand that the house is not normal. After experiencing a succession of terrifying happenings, she must make sense of the clues that surround her in order to stop the terror.  Some of these clues include messages that have been carved into walls and tables, an odd collection of candles, cautionary notes regarding the use of mirrors, old newspaper clippings of a tragedy that took place in the Ashburn House many years ago, and a mysterious grave on the property that has the most unusual inscription on the gravestone.

Coates excels at establishing mystery. The predicaments that Adrienne finds herself in captured my intrigue.  I kept turning the pages, all while encountering new clues and developments, which in turn caused me yet more page-turning anxiety. This built-in anticipation worked well at helping me to look past some occasional dull moments. There are several interactions between Adrienne and townsfolk, Adrienne and her cat, etc. that sort of halt the story rather than move it along.  There is unnecessary attention to certain details in several places; details that do not relate to the overall mysterious tone of the story.  Conversely, I would have liked there to have been more of a background story on Adrienne.  This would help readers to get better acquainted with the protagonist, thereby allowing for further empathy as she struggles through her terrifying situation.

But, as I have mentioned, there is much in this tale that holds the reader’s interest. Coates effectively casts her “foreshadows”; the dark mysteries that surround key items within and around the house. They lurk in between the lackluster elements of the plot and effectively beckon the reader to continue; to journey on until the mystery’s end.

Of the three books in “The Haunting of..” series, I like The Haunting of Gillespie House darcy-coates-300x206the best. It also happens to be the shortest of the tree.  Perhaps I prefer Coates as a novella writer?  I would need read more of her works to be sure, and read more I will. (She has several other books about ghosts and haunted houses.  Check out her websiteThe Haunting of Ashburn House comes next on my list, followed by The Haunting of Blackwood House. However, all three are decent reads and I recommend them all.

 

Review of Dollhouse (The Dark Carousel Book 1)

DollhouseHas Tim Burton made any movies lately? Maybe he’s searching for the perfect script, one that cooperates with his flair for things both colorful and dark, one that matches his glee for taking a vanilla setting and sprinkling it with sparkling oddities. Perchance he’s looking for the fairytale that tears into a child’s most bizarre nightmare and extracts its lurid images from the mind to the page. If this is the case, then he needs to look no further than Anya Allyn’s Dollhouse (The Dark Carousel Book 1). In this book there is a huge repository of “all things Burton.” It is the perfect source to mine material for a script of his standards.

Now here’s the kicker – I am pretty neutral when it comes to Tim Burton. I neither love nor hate him. I think the reason for my indifference has to do with the fact that I sometimes have trouble syncing my imagination with the fanciful worlds that he creates. These worlds are too dark for my inner child and yet too childishly bright for my rugged manliness (I can grunt the national anthem!). The fanciful world Allyn creates for Dollhouse resembles the realms of Burton’s creations in so many ways, and yet, while reading the book, I found myself free from the kind of  dissonance that his films tend to stir up in me.

Dollhouse is a novel written for “young adults.” Could this explain why I did not notice such dissonance in Allyn’s novel? Young adults = adolescents = moratorium. Teenagers – they are not yet adults, but they are no longer children. This is why fantasy novels partner so well with the YA genre. Both deal with people that inhabit “worlds” outside the realm of normalcy. Adolescence is a period of relentless changes and challenging mysteries. Likewise with fantasy novels. By nature, such stories are intended to invoke a sense of dissonance and perhaps this is why my imagination can absorb the themes in Anya’s novel more easily than the themes of Burton’s films.

Maybe she succeeds at speaking to my inner adolescent whereas Burton doesn’t know with which of my many selves to communicate? Could be. The truth is that I really don’t know. I’m guessing here. All I know is that, for some reason, I find Burton’s films somewhere between fair and good but I view this novel of Allyn’s as excellent.

So what kinds of fanciful creatures inhabit Allyn’s story? Let’s see, there are adult-sized dolls that walk and act on their own accord. There are ghosts, shadows and men and women in masquerade costumes, which seem to be their permanent attire.

The story is as follows. A group of teenagers discover a house in the woods on a fieldtrip for school. Days later, one of their own goes missing. The group searches for their friend and decides to explore the inside of the house. In one of the rooms, they find a carousel and take a ride on it. Its circling path leads to another section of the house. The problem is they can’t go back. They are trapped in “The Dollhouse”, which is run by a strange young girl that keeps children as toys. There is a toy box, where the “bad” toys are placed. This toy box has secret passages. One leads to an outside carnival with a black castle off in the distance. One leads to another time and place. One passage remains a mystery.

Now imagine this as a Burton film. Are you hearing the music box in the soundtrack? Are you seeing the fanciful costumes the “toys” are dressed in? I know I am. If this were made into a film, by Burton or someone else, I might enjoy it but I’m sure I would prefer the book.

Dollhouse is the first book in a series of four. I look forward to reading the remaining books. If fantastic worlds tickle your fancy (hee hee!), then you will enjoy these books as well.