What the Dead Want is the story of Gretchen, who, still mourning the mysterious loss of her mother, is asked by her great aunt to come help her sort out her old house. When Gretchen gets there, however, she is introduced to a world where history and the dead rule.
I was very much interested in the concept of this novel before I started reading it. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you’ll know I’m a big fan of ghosts, ghost stories, and ghost lore. So, when a book gets recommended to me about someone who can capture spirits with a camera, I thought I had met my dream book. It sounded like a Victorian gothic dream come to life.
Unfortunately, however, What the Dead Want did not meet my standards. For one thing, the letters featured in the book that were meant to be written by someone from the 1860s read more like someone writing today. I think the historical additions to this novel needed more research.
The writing and the plot also did not meet expectations. The plot seemed very random, and the use of photographs to see ghosts and solve the mystery really weren’t used until the very end of the story. In fact, most of the plot did not pick up until almost near the end of the book, leaving the structure of the rest of the book feeling randomly written and way too introspective. While I liked the fact that this book includes lots of diversity in its characters, the characters, except for Gretchen, felt very much as only accessories, and the perspective of the book was trying to be like Eleanor’s in The Haunting of Hill House and not at all succeeding in it.
While this book has good representation and covers some of the heaviest topics known (i.e. slavery, war, etc.), the writing was sub-par, and the plot not well-executed. I am sure that there is quite an audience for this book, but sadly I am not part of it.
picked up Bierce’s collection of ghost stories because I am a huge fan of reading ghost stories written around the same time and style – think Edith Wharton, E.F. Benson, Shirley Jackson, etc.
While these stories were VERY spooky, and definitely enjoyable, I encountered some rather unfortunate mannerisms of the time; that is, sexism, racism, making men either murderers or gamblers. It is unlike Wharton’s stories, which center around circumstances outside of the protagonist’s control – Bierce’s characters often put the supernatural experiences upon themselves while also being kind of horrible people. I didn’t ignore it as I went, nor did I excuse the behavior of the characters, but I did feel these traits were what made the stories so centered upon the characters’ downfalls.
I don’t know if I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t like period ghost stories as much as I do.
If I had to pick a word to describe Through the Woods it would be gorgeous. I am always looking for new fairy tale and folklore retellings with horrific twists, and this gorgeous book did not at all disappoint. Through the Woods consists of seven tales, each one encapsulating some fear that we all see lurking in the heart of fairy tales.
The first tale simply illustrates the fear of what could be hiding under the bed. The second, a sort of retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, illustrates the harshness of winter and the fear of possibly losing one’s family.
The third could be a retelling of any number of tales, including Bluebeard, The Fall of the House of Usher and the Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, and vampire stories. The fear expressed here is the uncertainty of an arranged marriage – and of course the odd fear of the dead wife coming back for vengeance.
The fourth shows a man’s fear when a seemingly perfect copy of his brother comes back from the dead. Invasion of the body snatchers? Perhaps!
The fifth story is all about ghosts and spiritualism, both the reality and fears that come with it. A young woman who pretends to commune with ghosts. Her friend who can actually see ghosts. Who is more afraid?
The sixth story is similar to the fourth in body-snatching, albeit a bit more gruesome. The creatures featured in this story are what I would associate to the term “skin-walkers.” The fear here is, again, losing one’s family – and perhaps even oneself – and not being able to trust those around you.
he last story, which is not really a story, more of a moral, reiterates one of the big themes of all the stories in this book: getting lost in the woods, and either coming out different, or being eaten by the wolf.
I read this book so quickly, that’s how good the stories were – I didn’t want to put them down for a moment. And Carroll’s illustrations and art in this book had me absolutely entranced. I honestly may go back and just look at the art. It sets the moods of each story so well, readers will be mesmerized and enchanted, just as one would venturing into the strange woods that star in each story. I would love to see Carroll create more tales like this. It is the perfect bedtime story, and the perfect midwinter read. I recommend Through the Woods to those who love fairy tale and folklore, who want to explore fears a bit, and who want to get lost in a good and gorgeous book.
It’s midwinter, which means it’s time to curl up with a good book. For me, this often means curling up with something spooky or scary. While the Autumn months are my favorite in terms of coziness and spooks, there is something about the dark of Winter that makes me want some darker spooks. If you also like to be spooked in the Winter months, or if you’re just looking for something a little more thrilling, here is a list of my favorite spooky books, stories, and authors so far (have I said “spooky” enough yet?).
The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
I love Wharton’s short stories because they have such simple plots and not very complex characters, but what is set to be complex is the darkness and looming memories that might just be living ghosts. I love the idea of staying in an old house in the middle of nowhere, and knowing you are in the middle of some terrific secret. Most of these stories were are set during the time Wharton wrote them, maybe a little earlier, which gives much more tangibility to the stories. So, if you like old, gothic houses full of ghosts and distant memories of the past, then this is the spooky collection for you.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House shows the insecurities of a woman, Eleanor, magnified in a house that may be alive, that wants her to stay there forever. Her new companions in the house are trying to determine the supernatural nature of the house, but Eleanor’s connection to the house may tell them all they need to know. This book, and really anything else by Shirley Jackson, are the most subtly spooky stories I have ever, and likely will ever read. Just as with Edith Wharton, Jackson’s stories focus on the mundane, and how the mundanity gets interrupted by something supernatural, or even preternatural. The fact is, though, no one, characters and readers included, are sure whether the supernatural elements are real or merely a figment of the imagination, and, in my opinion, that is the scariest part of all.
Children of the Corn by Stephen King
I am a huge fan of Stephen King’s shorter works, and I prefer them to his longer works. Children of the Corn is no exception. The short story has a more sinister ending (in my opinion) than any of the movies do (in which, oftentimes, the main characters survive the evils). In the story there is a primeval, eldritch being controlling the children of a small town, and feeding on them when they reach the age of 19 – it will also feed on anything or anyone that goes against it. The story ends with the age limit decreasing by one year, so that everyone who was 18 must now be given to the being in the cornfields. What I love about this story is that you don’t really know what is going on, what the being is. All you know is that it is something from deep within the earth, and that fact, the fact that something so evil and terrifying could be lying right under your feet, is utterly horrific and wonderful.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
This is a short story featured in Carter’s collection, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, however, I am only focusing on this one story. Based on the fairy tale of Bluebeard, we get the same amount of terror and gore featured in the original tale. However, Carter features women as characters much more prominently, and also makes these women have connections with each other, connections that ultimately defeat the wife-killer. The main character, who marries our Bluebeard, goes through similar trials to the original tale: she must not go in the forbidden room, but ultimately does, finding within the corpses of Bluebeard’s other wives. The main character is to be killed too, but because of her close connection with her mother, she is saved and she and her mother live well ever after. Carter does a fantastic job keeping the terror of the original story, while giving the women a sense of autonomy and strength. Even if you know the fairy tale well, you will go into this story feeling so much terror and fear for the main character, wondering what she will find in the rooms of the secretive castle.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
This is the most perfect autumnal, spooky story I have ever read. A carnival comes into town, and the kids go see it after hours, but they discover that the people running the carnival are not what they seem. There is something terrifying about the carnival, something primeval and eldritch in the way it causes fear. Can the kids and their allies solve the mysteries of this carnival, and defeat it before it causes any harm? What I love about this book is that it makes you feel Autumn in all definitions of the season. The coziness of reading a book, the crispness of an Autumn night, the spooky feeling that something unknown is lurking. I think the quote below captures the entire feeling of the book: “For these beings, fall is ever the normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth….Such are the autumn people.”
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
We all know this classic story: mad scientist creates monster, monster kills, people kill monster, etc.? Well, not exactly in the book. Mary Shelly’s classic horror story is not just creepy, but it is also quite philosophical in the way that it approaches the monster. Victor Frankenstein (not even a doctor yet!) is a college dropout who wants to find the secret of conquering death after the death of his mother. Of course, he creates the monster, but refuses to care for the creature as his own. From this comes a chase and a dialogue between Frankenstein and the monster, with the monster discovering who he is and what kind of person he should be based on his environment, and based on the actions of his creator. This is not a terrifying story, but it does make one think deeply about death, life, and the consequences of playing god. What could be more fearful?
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Another classic story, Rebecca is about a young woman who marries Max deWinter, a wealthy man from an old English family, whose wife, Rebecca, died the year before under mysterious circumstances. The young woman enters Max’s life and home, meets his family, friends, and colleagues, but cannot shake the feeling that Rebecca’s never-dying spirit follows and mocks her, as she is compared to the dead woman by everyone she meets. Eventually she solves the mystery of Rebecca’s death, but not without disruption to her whole life. This is a more modern take on the classic, gothic story of a woman who marries a man with a wife in the attic, metaphorically speaking. Regarding Rebecca’s character, we know she isn’t a ghost, we never see her, neither does the young woman. And yet, Rebecca is always there, a lurking memory in the shadows of Manderly. While this isn’t the spookiest of stories, you get a creeping sense of something as you read.
I tend to very much love Stephen King’s shorter works, and Gwendy’s Button Box is no exception. Set in King’s favorite setting of Castle Rock, Maine, this is a story about Gwendy, a young girl who is given a box covered in buttons by a man in a black coat and black bowler hat. The box improves her life drastically, but, as she learns soon after receiving it, the box comes with a price.
What I love about this story is that it is about making mistakes in youth, and making choices as an adult. Through our mistakes and choices, we all find out what is important in life; what we love and what we want to avoid; what we know is best for ourselves. Through Gwendy, King and co-author Richard Chizmar show how such mistakes and choices can affect life, albeit with help from a box bent on destruction. It is definitely a coming-of-age story; a horrific one.
The only thing I would criticize would be the illustrations by Keith Minnion included in this edition. There were not enough of them, and, to be honest, I wasn’t too fond of them. If there had been more I might have appreciated them more.
While this book didn’t scare me, I can tell you right now that if a man in a black coat and black bowler hat came up to me offering a box covered in colorful buttons, I would refuse to take it.
This short novel of Stephen King’s was a fun and chilling read. Very easy to get through due to the pacing of the story and entertainment factor, I read Cycle of the Werewolf in about two hours. The story shows a view of how a town might react to the arrival of a murderous werewolf and, in my personal opinion, King got most of it pretty realistic. There are two big reactions to a kind of upset like a werewolf: everyone going completely ballistic, or, as in this novel, everyone doing absolutely nothing until a child takes matters into their own hands.
The illustrations by Bernie Wrightson perfectly captured the grim atmosphere of King’s narration, though I have one criticism (this would mainly be for the editors): a lot of the illustrations were placed a bit too early in the text, and so the reader would know what would happen in the plot based on the picture before the written event ever actually happened.
I recommend this book to those who want a short and chilling read. The gloominess of the art and the fact that the book starts and ends with snow makes it a perfect winter read.
Today I have just added The Missing Girl to my ever-growing collection of Shirley Jackson stories. If you do not know yet, Shirley Jackson is my favorite author. Now that is not to say that she has written my favorite book (that is Tolkien). Rather, I have loved all her work consistently, and the genre she writes in is my favorite: horror/thriller/downright odd. The three stories in The Missing Girl are no exception to my love of Shirley Jackson’s work.
Most of you have probably watched the recent show “The Haunting of Hill House”, based on Jackson’s book of the same name. The book is wonderfully spooky and psychologically compelling, dealing with the main character Eleanor’s neuroses about herself and how she fits into the world, and ultimately how she fits into the scheme of Hill House itself. Shirley Jackson takes a mundane world and turns it upside down. Often her stories center on a female main character living a normal life – whether as a wife, a secretary, an old woman living alone in her house, friendly to all her neighbors (remember that these books were written from around the 40s to te 60s). These characters step out of their normal routine by doing something that wouldn’t seem abnormal – going on an errand, sending a letter, visiting a friend, getting away for the weekend – and she meets the abnormal on the way, getting lost in some way on the journey. Similar plots happen in the three stories of The Missing Girl.
In the first story, “The Missing Girl”, a 13 year old girl goes missing from a summer camp. Her roommate didn’t think anything of it at the time because the girl said she would go out. When the camp realizes she is missing they do what people normally do when someone goes missing: they search. However, as the search goes on longer, the camp and the girl’s family start to realize that the girl may not have ever actually attended the camp as she was supposed to. At the end, the question becomes, did the girl ever exist in the first place?
In the second story, “Journey with a Lady”, a young boy travels on a train alone, when a lady sits down on the train next to him. It turns out she is running from the law. The boy at first does not want anything to do with the lady, but when he finds out she is a fugitive and why, he spends time with her, giving her a sense of normalcy and life before she has to turn herself in.
The last story, “Nightmare”, lives up to its title. A secretary, Miss Morgan is tasked by her boss to deliver a package to someone across town. Along the way she sees advertisements for people to find a “Miss X”, who coincidentally (or perhaps not so much) looks exactly like Miss Morgan. After hours of trying to escape the advertisements and people following her, knowing she looks like their “Miss X”, she succumbs to this new role into which the world has put her. And ultimately, she is very happy with the change.
One of the key points in Jackson’s writings is the stepping over the threshold into a different reality. Sometimes the reality is better than the old one, as with Miss Morgan. Other times it leads to loss and confusion, dealings with supernatural beings, or otherwise, death as in Eleanor’s case. The liminality of these stories makes the reader (i.e. myself) feel so wonderfully uneasy, and has them wondering what threshold they have yet to cross, or what supernatural and odd aspects of life are waiting for them in a version of their own realities.
I have not been into a book as much as I have been into The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon for a long time. In this novel, 9-year-old Trisha strays from the path and gets lost in the woods, encountering challenges the woods brings her, whether real or not.
As a lover of survival video games, this novel was utterly compelling. The way King writes Trisha’s character has the reader relating to her so much that it’s almost as if the reader and Trisha are one in the decisions that she makes, the fears that she feels, and wondering constantly if this whole thing isn’t just in her head. In the end, both the reader and Trisha find out that the difference between reality and dreams does not matter when you are lost. The visual descriptions that King provides are so vivid I could imagine myself right in the forest with Trisha.
A big theme in this book is decisions. Not only the decisions Trisha must make during her long trek in the woods, but also the decisions of those who have lost and are looking for her: her mother’s and brother’s decisions of being so stubborn that they push Trisha away; her father’s decision to manipulate in his own way; and so on. It is a wonderful take on humanity – decisions are what define us, make us selfish like Trisha’s parents, or even point us further away from our goals, like Trisha strayed from the path in the woods. In the end, we must make the decisions that will make us stronger, and Trisha does just this.
Overall, I have struggled to put down The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon throughout my read of it. I recommend this novel to anyone who feels lost, and who wants a good thriller.