Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz

October 9, 2014

Life ExpectancyOn the day Jimmy Tock was born, his dying grandfather predicted the exact time of his birth and his measurements, along with a warning of five “very bad” days, beginning in his twentieth year. His father would have discounted the predictions, but when Jimmy was born at exactly the time and weight predicted, he decided to take all the predictions seriously. Our story begins when Jimmy’s 20th birthday is approaching – the first of his “very bad” days.

Think about this–if you know something bad is going to happen, do you stay at home and endanger your family? Do you try to act normal and go about your business? Would you worry, walking down the street, about a stray asteroid, or a runaway truck? How do you avoid collateral damage when you know you’re doomed? Fortunately or unfortunately, Jimmy has had 20 years to think about it and a family who has done everything possible to prepare themselves and Jimmy for any eventuality. He isn’t prepared for what’s coming, of course, because no one can prepare for the truly awful, but his family gives him strength. The unusual circumstances bring the family together in a wonderful way, and provide Jimmy with plenty of time to reflect on life and family, which makes this a book full of beautiful lines like this one:

“No one’s life should be rooted in fear. We are born for wonder, for joy, for hope, for love, to marvel at the mystery of existence, to be ravished by the beauty of the world, to seek truth and meaning, to acquire wisdom, and by our treatment of others to brighten the corner where we are.”

Reading this book, I found myself going back and rereading lines like the above, thinking about life and what it means to appreciate what you have. Very unusual for a book categorized as horror fiction! Yes, there is a serial killer in this book and the spooky predictions of Jimmy’s grandfather, but this is also a book filled with quirky, thoughtful humor, exploring the simple things that make life worthwhile, like love and family. It’s worth a read.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

August 21, 2014

House of LeavesBefore we begin, I need you to imagine, as clearly as you can, the interior of a nautilus shell. You’ve probably seen one cut into a cross-section: a long spiral of rooms opening from rooms opening from rooms, onward and onward. Or, better still, think of the infinite view that comes from a mirror facing a mirror or the visual feedback of a video camera viewing its own live feed on a television screen. Bear these things in mind.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is the book I would like to tell you about. It is a novel about a scholarly discussion of a film, The Navidson Record, which is about a photojournalist’s attempts to document the sudden appearance of a dark, cold, featureless, labyrinthine complex of rooms, hallways, chambers, spiral staircases, and outright mazes (remember the nautilus?) that has appeared in his family’s house. Elderly, blind scholar Zampanò had been writing an academic critique of this film—until his death, at least. Here, then, we are presented with Zampanò ‘s manuscript of his critique of this documentary along with interviews and transcripts and editors’ remarks and documents related to the film—and now with added annotations and autobiographical footnotes by the finder of the manuscript: one, Johnny Truant, a Los Angeles tattoo parlor employee and all-around unreliable narrator.

No, House of Leaves cannot be called a “simple” book—not in storyline nor in structure. Visually, too, the book is a maze, with unconventional typesetting, different fonts for different narrators, coded messages in colored words, and footnotes within footnotes. Nor is it a happy book, generally speaking (most would categorize it as horror; the author has referred to it as a love story): angry Johnny Truant writes like a refugee from Fight Club, Zampanò came to a mysterious and violent death, the explorers of the house fall victim to desperation and insanity, and the house itself growls.

It is not an easy book. It is not a simple book. But what maze should be simple? A maze without turns would in all ways always be a hallway. Be ready. But try the maze.

“Well, now, after all that thinking, wouldn’t it be fine if we could take a little trip? We will do it. I know a game we all like to play inside la casa, the house.

“We will play hide and seek.”

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

July 30, 2014

The Night GardenerMolly and Kip are a brother and sister who have had a hard go of it in life. Ireland in the 1850s is a difficult place for children – famine and hard work are all they’ve ever known. In search of a better life, they’ve come to work for the Windsors in rural England, but nearly everyone in the surrounding village is telling them to turn away from the family’s decaying home on a secluded island whose centerpiece is an enormous, gnarling tree. But what else are two youngsters without a penny or a caring adult in the world to do? There are whispers that the Windsor home and family are cursed, which Molly dismisses as hogwash. Surely curses are the stuff of stories – as an amateur storyteller, she ought to know. But then she notices that the Windsors, from nervous patriarch Bertram to little Penny, grow paler and weaker with each passing day. There are the muddy bootprints that appear every single morning, the bad dreams that torment Molly night after night. And then there’s the tall, skinny man in the top hat that Kip says he’s seen outside…

I love children’s horror because it’s less about grisly details and more about haunting atmospheres and moral themes. If that’s your bag, then The Night Gardener is as fine an example as you’ll ever find. Themes of human greed and discontent permeate the story, and it’s just as engaging a read for adults as it is for children. Kip and Molly are brave and feisty in distinct ways, and the Windsor family is easy to sympathize with even as their problems are mainly their own fault. I loved the slow burn and the dramatic reveal of each element of the story, and Auxier‘s pacing couldn’t be better – I was on the edge of my seat during the action scenes. Are you ready to be creeped out, or to creep out your children? The Night Gardener is worth a look.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

October 31, 2013

Edgar Allan Poe lived a life as macabre as one of his tales. As a toddler he watched his actress mother kill herself onstage in the role of Juliet, and then watched her die a lingering death from tuberculosis before he turned three. He was fostered by a stern father who died without leaving Poe a penny. His young wife burst a blood vessel in her throat while singing and playing the piano, blood pouring from her mouth while Poe watched in horror. Finally, widowed, wasted by drink and long suffering, he died at the age of 40 in a hospital far from home, watched over by strangers.

Such a life is sufficient inspiration for his tales of spiritual horror, but in his poetry Poe managed to convert the horrible into the lyrical through the careful use of sound techniques. “Annabel Lee” is unsurpassed in our language for its rhythm of ocean waves surging and ebbing, and the melodramatic sing-song quality of “The Raven” has mesmerized audiences since its first publication in 1845. Poe later wrote that he was inspired by the talking raven in Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, but might he also have had in mind the call of the fish crow, whose dreary “UNH-unh” sounds like a repeated negative to whatever question you are pondering? Poe, who lived in coastal cities all his life and was very sensitive to the somber effects of nature, would have noticed this characteristic call.

Though reviled by some critics as a second-rate teller of horror stories, Poe made significant contributions to American literature. He perfected and defined the short story, which he said had more in common with poetry than with the novel. Poe argued that writers should try to achieve a “unified effect,” a technique which he illustrated brilliantly in both his poetry and prose. Whether taking us into the mind of a murderer, as in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” or that of a victim, as in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” he crafted the tale of breathless horror for which he is famous. He also wrote the world’s first detective stories, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter,” which are still considered masterpieces among the thousands of imitations they have spawned. As to his poetry, for Poe there was no subject more poignant than the death of a beautiful woman:

And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Under the Skin by Michel Faber

October 29, 2013

Isserley cruises the roads of the Scottish Highlands, looking for men. The hitchhikers she initially picks up all view her differently, but her physique stands out: “Half Baywatch babe, half little old lady.” But her appearance is nowhere near her natural build. Isserley’s body has been fundamentally altered, partly in order to get men into her car.

And she does not view the men as humans. Isserley and her kind are the humans; these other creatures are known to her as vodsels, and they are to be captured, fattened, and then shipped off.

Isserley is good at was she does, and the unit she works for is quite productive; her employer Vess Incorporated is well pleased. But one day the son of the mighty and exceptionally rich Mr. Vess visits the plant, and this young man, Amlis Vess, has some queer ideas. He believes that vodsel life should be respected and he is awed by the notion that these beings have a language. Isserley, on the other hand, cannot identify with the vodsels as they aren’t capable of anything that defines humans. Her co-workers and men in general get on her nerves, and when she hears what the poor bastards who work in the dreaded Estates back home like to eat, she simply says, “Trash will eat trash.”

Yes, Isserley is a snob, living in self-imposed isolation. And even though she briefly worked in the Estates, she prefers to identify with the Elite that in fact turned her into a serf. She socialized with the well-to-do before “[w]ealthy young men” who had promised to take care of her did not do so.

So, Isserley doesn’t care for young and rich Amlis Vess either, and when she shows him the facility where vodsels are kept, she is not impressed by his idealism. “There’s nothing unusual going on here,” she says, “Just… supply and demand.”

Under the Skin was Dutch-born author Michel Faber’s first novel. It has inspired a movie (which premiered in September, 2013) and the book is an impressive and strange piece of fiction (although not hard to read). It is an immensely rich tale, and while it’s a bloody and gory allegory, it is also a story that jolts the readers awake and helps them find a new love for the air, the rain, the snow, the trees, the sea – earth.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book One by Clay & Susan Griffith

September 30, 2013

We’re pleased to re-post this book review from last year in anticipation of the authors visiting our libraries again soon:

The Greayfriar: Vampire Empire Book OneEver since Bram Stoker popularized the vampire novel with Dracula, other authors have added to the myths & lore of the nosferatu. The husband and wife writing team of Clay & Susan Griffith have continued this tradition with the vampires in their novels. These vampires prefer cold, or at least cool, climates, they have clans with “noble” rulers, they do cast a reflection in a mirror, and while they don’t turn into bats, they can fly. They are also not undead humans nor do they turn humans into vampires by biting them, although they do feed on them.

The Greyfriar is also much more than just a vampire novel. As of the year 2020, the war between vampires and humans has been going on for 150 years, since 1870 when the bloodthirsty monsters rose up against mankind and laid waste to the great civilizations of the Northern hemisphere. Descendants of Britain’s leaders have relocated to Alexandria, Egypt, and The United State’s power is now consolidated in Central America. So, because history has taken quite a different path since just after the Civil War, this is also a novel of alternate history. And, because humanity had to spend time re-organizing and relocating the former powers of the north in the equatorial regions, technology has not yet surpassed that of the steam age. The great powers of Equatoria and America both possess flying airships and for weapons cannons, Gatling guns, pistols and swords are all used. Thus, this novel is also in the Steampunk genre.

In the story Princess Adele travels under royal guard (by airship, of course) to the borderlands of the north. The trip is one of goodwill with the borderlands, as it has been arranged that Adele will marry (pompous) war hero Senator Clark of America, a marriage that will tie the two great powers together and make them both stronger than they could ever be alone. This is the first time Adele has been this far north and her airship is attacked by a great number of vampires. Most of the guards and crew are killed as the ship is grounded and Adele is saved by the swashbuckling hero of legend: the Greyfriar. She is now stuck behind enemy lines and only the Greyfriar’s great skill at fighting and his knowledge of the countryside allow them to escape.

Soon, Adele is captured by Cesare, younger son of the vampire king Dmitri. His older brother Gareth – an unusually intelligent, refined and curious vampire – lays claim to the prisoner and treats Adele with a kindness that she initially distrusts. When the clans start clamoring for renewed war, Adele is taken into Scotland, where the benevolent Gareth’s castle lies. Gareth and Adele gradually get to know each other and she reluctantly comes to think of him as more than a monster. In fact, much of the later part of the novel is reminiscent of the story of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. So, in addition to being a steampunk, alternate history, vampire tale, there’s a bit of romance thrown in too. I certainly enjoyed this first book in the Vampire Empire series, and hope you will too.

Clay & Susan Griffith will appear with other Speculative Fiction authors at Southeast Regional Library on October 2 and at Eva Perry Regional Library on October 13; visit our website for more details and to see which other authors will appear.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Lottery: and other stories by Shirley Jackson

October 26, 2012

On the surface, Shirley Jackson’s life might have seemed just fine, perhaps even wonderful. She was a critically and commercially successful author, married to a teacher who was also an acclaimed critic, and she was the mother of four.

But Jackson lived a troubled life. She drank too much, she suffered from various neuroses and psychosomatic illnesses, the household was filled with tension, and her husband was in the habit of taking his students to bed.  And people in her community sometimes referred to the author as “the Witch”– she had written a book about witchcraft, she read Tarot cards, and she gave some of her cats the names of creatures of Hell. At the age of 48, she died of heart failure in her sleep.

The conflicts and tensions of the author’s life are reflected in her writing – often horrors are found in the mundane, and there is no clear border between internal and external realities: a mind manifests itself in the surroundings, the surroundings haunt the mind.

When the short story “The Lottery” was first published in the New Yorker in 1948, hundreds of subscribers cancelled their subscriptions. The tale about ritual murder in rural small-town America is today as American as American pie – it’s a classroom classic – and even though the short story may not be as shocking today as it was in 1948, it can still send chills up a reader’s spine.

The title story of this collection is perhaps the one Shirley Jackson is best known for, but “The Lottery” is not typical of Jackson’s writing. Elsewhere, the author wants to disquiet rather than shock her audience, the threat is often latent in her work (as Donna Tartt has pointed out), and as a writer she is a master at messing with the mind of the reader.

The short story “Pillar of Salt” oppressively describes the mental breakdown of a New Hampshire wife while on a visit to New York City; the children with their toys seem like “hideous little parodies of adult life.” “The Daemon Lover” is utterly unnerving as it depicts a woman who spends her wedding day in search of her husband to be, and in “The Renegade” a housewife is taken aback when she realizes that her children’s appetites are similar to those of the family pet. “The Witch” is perhaps less sinister and in a way even delightful. Then again, it may be quite unsettling, and the little boy of the story is not far removed from the way Jackson could describe her own children in her essays.

Dorothy Parker once described Shirley Jackson as an “unparalleled leader in the field of beautifully written, quiet, cumulative shudders”.

Halloween is just the time to discover them.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog

The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith

October 15, 2012

Meet the author! As part of our Haunted Happenings series of ghostly events for adults, Clay Griffith will be at Cameron Village Regional Library on Thursday, October 18 at 7 p.m. Please call 919-856-6710 to RSVP or for more information.

Ever since Bram Stoker popularized the vampire novel with Dracula, other authors have added to the myths & lore of the nosferatu. The husband and wife writing team of Clay & Susan Griffith have continued this tradition with the vampires in their novels. These vampires prefer cold, or at least cool, climates, they have clans with “noble” rulers, they do cast a reflection in a mirror, and while they don’t turn into bats, they can fly. They are also not undead humans nor do they turn humans into vampires by biting them, although they do feed on them.

The Greyfriar is also much more than just a vampire novel. As of the year 2020, the war between vampires and humans has been going on for 150 years, since 1870 when the bloodthirsty monsters rose up against mankind and laid waste to the great civilizations of the Northern hemisphere. Descendants of Britain’s leaders have relocated to Alexandria, Egypt, and The United State’s power is now consolidated in Central America. So, because history has taken quite a different path since just after the Civil War, this is also a novel of alternate history. And, because humanity had to spend time re-organizing and relocating the former powers of the north in the equatorial regions, technology has not yet surpassed that of the steam age. The great powers of Equatoria and America both possess flying airships and for weapons cannons, Gatling guns, pistols and swords are all used. Thus, this novel is also in the Steampunk genre.

In the story Princess Adele travels under royal guard (by airship, of course) to the borderlands of the north. The trip is one of goodwill with the borderlands, as it has been arranged that Adele will marry (pompous) war hero Senator Clark of America, a marriage that will tie the two great powers together and make them both stronger than they could ever be alone. This is the first time Adele has been this far north and her airship is attacked by a great number of vampires. Most of the guards and crew are killed as the ship is grounded and Adele is saved by the swashbuckling hero of legend: the Greyfriar. She is now stuck behind enemy lines and only the Greyfriar’s great skill at fighting and his knowledge of the countryside allow them to escape.

Soon, Adele is captured by Cesare, younger son of the vampire king Dmitri. His older brother Gareth – an unusually intelligent, refined and curious vampire – lays claim to the prisoner and treats Adele with a kindness that she initially distrusts. When the clans start clamoring for renewed war, Adele is taken into Scotland, where the benevolent Gareth’s castle lies. Gareth and Adele gradually get to know each other and she reluctantly comes to think of him as more than a monster. In fact, much of the later part of the novel is reminiscent of the story of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. So, in addition to being a steampunk, alternate history, vampire tale, there’s a bit of romance thrown in too. I certainly enjoyed this first book in the Vampire Empire series, and hope you will too.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog

The Between by Tananarive Due

September 19, 2012

When Hilton James was a boy, he found his nana’s cold body on the kitchen floor, and a hysterical Hilton ran next door to get a neighbor. When they walked into the house, nana was standing at the stove humming. When Hilton asked nana what happened, she said she fainted. Nana was never quite the same after that day and Hilton was convinced that she had died on that kitchen floor. Months later at a family reunion, Hilton was swimming in the ocean and nearly drowned. While his Nana was trying to save him, the current swept her away and she was never seen again. Both of those days would be burned into Hilton’s memory and haunt him for the remainder of his life.

Thirty years later, Hilton James is married with a family and living in Miami, Hilton is a social worker and his wife Dede, is a Judge. The James’s live a quiet life, until Dede starts receiving threats. The threats against his family are racially motivated and Hilton is not taking them lightly, unlike his wife. Around the same time that the threats start, weird things start happening to Hilton. Hilton starts to see and experience things and he cannot recall if they actually happened or not. Every time Hilton closes his eyes he experiences frightening dreams, he gives up on sleeping altogether. On top of the dreams and strange occurrences, his wife is continuing to receive threats. The odd thing about his dreams and strange happenings is that they usually foretell something that is about to happen. Hilton attributes the strange thoughts and dreams to him cheating death as a youngster and thinks that his time has finally come. The combination of Hilton’s paranoia and lack of sleep start to have a negative effect on his personal life and work, his life is spiraling out of control. Is Hilton losing his mind or is it something much deeper?

I was anxious to see what would happen next with the James family. Tananarive  Due  captures your attention and you feel like you are Hilton’s shadow as he struggles for clarity each day. This was a great read but my favorite is The Good House, also by Due. In her usual fashion, Due works in a good bit of the eerie unexplained which keeps you on edge and eagerly awaiting the end result.

Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

June 19, 2012

I hesitated before picking up this novel, because I was worried it would increase my skittishness about air travel. It didn’t. Instead, it made me leery of visiting small towns in New Hampshire!

Night Strangers is the story of former pilot Chip Linton. Chip has stopped flying after a freak crash that while not his fault, resulted in fatalities. In an effort to leave bad memories behind, Chip relocates with his wife, Emily, and their twin girls, Hallie and Garnet, to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. This is their first mistake. The second is to buy an old house without investigating its history. Once moved in, Chip becomes obsessed with a room in the basement and begins to hear voices. The neighbors, while friendly, are strangely well preserved and strangely interested in the twins.

I love how Bohjalian makes you care about some characters — and how he makes you dislike and fear others. He creates a spooky atmosphere and makes three little words, “She deserves friends”, so frightening I felt chills run up and down my spine every time they were uttered. His choice to use the second person narrative for Chip was interesting and added to the tension.

Night Strangers is an interesting hybrid of horror story, ghost tale, and family drama. When I say horror I’m thinking of books like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives with a soupcon of Stephen King and Henry James thrown in.

Readers are divided in their opinion of the ending. I won’t lie — I was taken aback, but that’s one of my expectations when reading horror. I also expect a story with engaging characters that keeps you feverishly turning pages while simultaneously scaring you out of your wits. I think Chris Bohjalian succeeds on all counts with this book and I highly recommend it.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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