Something Halloweeny This Way Comes…

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I’ve always loved Halloween. As a kid, I was hardly alone in that love. With it’s custom blend of fantasy, make-believe, and candy, it’s a holiday that seems tailor made for the young.

But I took it more seriously than most kids. I started planning costumes months in advance (literally, months- I would come up with costume ideas all year round and then have to wait until Halloween to use them). Then, around mid-September I’d start thinking about the logistics of costumes. For example, the year I tried to be Ariel from The Little Mermaid I was presented with several problems. One was that I would have to walk around in a more modest version of Ariel’s shell bra. Even though the costume had significantly more coverage than the movie version did, my parents didn’t think it wise for me to walk around with no sleeves and a bare midriff on a chilly October evening. That was solved by a flesh colored shirt worn underneath. But then came the challenge of walking around in fins. My tail had an opening at the bottom for my legs, but it wasn’t wide enough for me to take more than mini-steps, so it had to be expanded slightly. Such alterations and decisions required a lot of time and thought.

Not me in my little mermaid costume. I looked much sillier. Less cartoon-y though.
image credit: goat.com.au

My Halloween seriousness wasn’t just limited to costumes. I used to plan my trick-or-treating route. I knew what houses had the best candy, and where to go for “filler” items. I knew there was a limited amount of time for trick-or-treating: eventually my mom would say it’s getting late and we should go home. So I wanted to hit the best houses in the shortest amount of time. In between, of course, I’d stop at all the other houses. I wasn’t one to turn up my nose at any candy!

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But like all children, I eventually grew up. I didn’t grow out of Halloween though. I’m not much of a party girl, and since my friends in college weren’t big party animals either, we’d rent a bunch of Halloweeny movies, stock up on candy and make it a movie night. It was more fun then it sounds. So I’ve sort of maintained the tradition into adulthood. It’s not as much fun as it was in college, since I don’t usually have a group of friends who can easily come over and join me (one of the advantages of dorm living is that everyone is a few doors away!) and I’m more health conscious so I don’t let myself have quite so much candy.

I do save seasonal films to see, books to read and TV shows to binge. Here’s some recommended Halloween media. Just note that while I like “spooky” and “creepy”: I’m not a fan of horror per se. I don’t like blood and guts. I also (for the most part) left off stuff that’s aimed primarily at kids. There’s some good stuff there, but it’s a whole nother list!

Books

image credit: thehauntedlibrarian.com

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury– This is a very seasonally appropriate book. It feels like fall. Actually I think I’d call the story more “dark fantasy” than “horror.” But I suppose it depends on one’s scare threshold. I have some issues with the florid writing in this one. It’s appropriate in some places, but in others I think it slows things down. Still definitely worth reading though.

We Have Always Live In the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson– It’s hard to go too wrong with Shirley Jackson for Halloween! I think We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the most Halloweeny, but it’s a close race.

The Birds and Other Stories, Don’t Look Now: Selected Stories of Daphne DuMaurier, and Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- A lot (but not all) of DuMaurier’s work is Halloween appropriate. I think you can make the argument that Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel deserve a place on this list as well.

The Other by Thomas Tryon– I didn’t like this one at first but by midpoint it was hard to put down! Some of the twists I saw coming but others took me by surprise. Tryon’s novel Harvest Home is also Halloweeny, but I didn’t like it as much.

The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski- This is a haunted house story meets psychological thriller that takes place over several layers and incorporates different forms of text within a text. I didn’t include music on this list, but the author’s sister is singer-songwriter, Poe, who put out an album called Haunted that contained several songs connected to/about the novel.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl- Like The House of Leaves, this book plays with form. It incorporates photographs, documents, and there’s an app you can download to access bonus content. But more importantly, it tells a creepily compelling story with elements of murder mystery and supernatural.

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie– If you love Agatha Christie, Poirot’s investigation of a deadly Halloween party is a seasonal must.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman- The first in a series, and I’d recommend starting here. It’s good if you want Halloween and witches without being too scary.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters– I’d recommend this to readers who appreciate atmosphere and ambiguity.

Ghost Story by Peter Straub– Just what it sounds like! It has one of my favorite ghost story beginnings: “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” “I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me—the most dreadful thing . . .”

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- This is a ghost story, but in an unexpected way.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill– Another creepy British ghost story (gotta love them!)

TV

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The Haunting of Hill House– This Netflix miniseries is inspired by Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name, but it’s not really an adaptation.

The Haunting of Bly Manor- This miniseries was the work of the same team as the above, but deals with a different story and characters. This one is inspired by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, but again it’s not an adaptation per se. I didn’t care for the team’s third outing, Midnight Mass (perhaps because it’s doesn’t have a clear literary inspiration?)

Locke and Key– This series is based on a series of graphic novels which I haven’t read. Apparently they’re darker than the Netflix series. In TV form this plays sort of like Narnia meets The Haunting of Hill House. It’s fun, a little creepy, but nothing too intense. I didn’t like the second season as much as I liked the first, but it was still fun.

Being Human (UK) This show about a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf who live together, was a total guilty pleasure for me. I didn’t particularly care for the American version though.

A Discovery of Witches- This is another TV series is based on a book series (also fun) that blends supernatural creatures. The biggies in this one are vampires, witches and demons, but there’s also some other weirdness.

Salem– This is sort of semi-inspired by the idea of the Salem witch hunts, but that’s about all it has in common with reality. There are plenty of witches, demons, and supernatural creatures here.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina– When I was a kid I loved the old TV show. I like this one too, in a different way. Literary and musical theatre references abound, which makes it fun for me.

Stranger Things- If you’ve been living under a rock, and missed this supernatural, 80’s set series, Halloween is the perfect time to binge.

Film

image credit: prevention.com

Hocus Pocus– A childhood seasonal favorite. It’s got a few moments that may creep the little ones a bit, but it’s mostly just funny and fun for the whole family.

The Addams Family and The Addams Family Values- Some more Halloween comedy classics!

Practical Magic– If you’re more into romcom and less into scary

The Changeling– A haunted house mystery that’s both sad and creepy.

The Other This is based on Tryon’s novel of the same name, listed above. It’s a pretty good adaptation, but the book is better.

Don’t Look Now– Based on Daphne DuMaurier’s novella of the same name (listed above).

The Others– A very gothic, Halloweeny haunted house story. It’s a favorite of mine in the genre.

Burnt Offerings– Another underrated haunted house

Sleepy Hollow– The classic legend gets the Tim Burton treatment. It’s just a fun movie.

The Woman in Black – Based on the book listed above. The 2012 film is good, but if you can find the lesser known 1989 film, I like that better. But I only saw that one once, a long time ago.

Poltergeist– I saw this movie for the first time when I was about 9 years old (don’t know how that happened) but needless to say it terrified me. I saw it again a few years ago. I found it less terrifying, but otherwise it holds up pretty well.

Workouts Yes this is sort of an unexpected category, but I saw a few fun Halloween workouts out there, so I figured “why not?”

Up To the Beat Fitness – 30 Minute Halloween Dance Party

Lucy Wyndham- Read- Halloween Workout

Were you’re favorites not listed? I could have listed more, but the post was already getting long! Maybe I’ll do an update next year. Let me know what you think!

Wishing everyone a happy and safe Halloween

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorites of the Last Ten Years

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

ttt-new

May 28: Favorite Books Released In the Last Ten Years (one book for each year) (submitted by Anne @ Head Full of Books)

513xypka1bl-_ac_us218_2019 (so far…) Once Upon A River By Diane Setterfield– Set in a pub in a village along the Thames in the late 19th century, this novel opens on a winter’s night. A man, badly hurt and soaking wet, staggers in holding a little girl who appears dead. A local nurse saves the man and realizes that the girl isn’t dead (anymore?), but the man has no memory of how he came across the girl or who she is. When she regains consciousness the child is unable to talk. A local family believe that she’s the baby that was kidnapped from them two years ago. Another family thinks that she’s the lost daughter of their prodigal son. A woman well into middle age believes that the 4 year old child is her sister. The story winds its way from one character to the next, and each character’s back story becomes like a tributary.

617j4awgzul-_ac_us218_2018 Idaho by Emily Ruskovich- Ann and Wade are a married couple living in Idaho. As Wade’s memory fades with early onset dementia, Ann begins to piece together the fate of Wade’s first wife, Jenny (now in prison) and their two daughters  (one dead and one missing). The novel moves from one characters point of view to another in a nonlinear fashion. There’s a sense of strangeness to the events and characters of this novel, but there’s a familiarity as well. We’re never actually told what happened to Wade’s family, but we’re given enough pieces to put it together. If you like things laid out clearly, you probably won’t like this. But if you like a bit of ambiguity and gorgeous prose, you might like this.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_2017 A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara- Four young men meet in college and become friends. When they graduate, they move to NYC and begin their lives. Willem, an aspiring actor, is kind to his core. JB is a bright, witty, and occasionally cruel painter, Malcolm becomes an architect at a prominent firm. But the nexus of the group is Jude, withdrawn, intelligent, with a dark, unspeakable childhood of trauma behind him. Over the years, their friendships deepen and change as they face different challenges. But Jude himself is their greatest challenge. We do eventually learn what happened to Jude, and it’s ugly. Very ugly. Like hard to read about. But there’s something beautiful about Jude’s struggle to overcome it, and his friend’s struggle to help him.  Much like Jude’s like the experience of reading this is tragic, traumatic, and sometimes brutal. But it’s also beautiful.

51muf7bj-ll-_ac_us218_2016 The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss– When some unexpected excitement comes to an inn one evening, the innkeeper faces it like a veteran. But then he goes back to his regular life, and tells his story. Kvothe’s childhood was spent in a troupe of travelling players. When he encounters an Arcanist (sort of a scientist/wizard) he’s tutored and develops into a powerful Arcanist in his own right. When the world of his childhood is overturned, Kvothe just barely escapes and becomes a beggar before fate brings him to University. He makes several friends and several enemies before discovering the reason that his was killed. This is a pretty epic novel that covers the first 1/3 of Kvothe’s life and is the first in a planned trilogy.  I haven’t read the second book yet, because I’m waiting for a release date for the third book before I invest more time in the series.

41oplfqimil-_ac_us218_2015 The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters– Dr. Faraday is called to Hundred’s Hall, the home of the Ayers family. As a child his mother worked there as a maid. But now, its owners (a mother and her two adult children) are struggling to keep up with modern society. He treats the young maid, but he strikes up a friendship with Caroline Ayers, the daughter of the house. He also begins to treat her brother, Roderick, who is still recovering from wounds he sustained during WWII. He comes to understand the family’s dire financial straits. The stress of the attempts to reconcile these straits coincide with some disastrous events that may or may not be supernatural in origin and lead to tragedy. But  what’s great about this novel is that it remains ambiguous, hovering on the edges psychological and supernatural without fulling diving into either category.

51jx4jtbmpl2014 Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth– Forsyth’s Rapunzel retelling is a wonderful braid of narratives that overlap. Charlotte Rose de la Force is banished from Versailles after a number of scandalous love affairs. She goes to a convent where a nun tells her a story of a young girl who was  sold by her parents for a handful of lettuce after her father is caught stealing from the courtesan Selena Leonelli. Margherita is the price he pays for his crimes. She grows up locked away in a tower. The combined stories of these three women tell the traditional Rapunzel story as well as the story of the women who wrote it. The novel is both a historical fiction account of real women and a fairy tale retelling.

41-kxlbhnl-_ac_us218_2013 The Other by Thomas Tryon– Holland and Niles Perry are thirteen year old identical twins. They live in a small New England town with their parents, and when their father dies in a tragic accident, the extended family gather, while their mother stays in her bedroom, heartbroken. This allows the boys to roam free. Holland, always a bit of a prankster, grows more sinister with his games. This book offers several twists on the ghost story genre as well as the evil twin/doppelganger trope. One seems fairly obvious from the beginning but that twist plays out early on, and there several other surprises in store.

51eksizfwl-_ac_us218_2012 Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson– Major Pettigrew is a rather cranky widower living in Edgecombe St. Mary, an English country village where nothing much changes (which is how he likes it!). When he strikes up a friendship with Jasmine Ali, a widowed Pakistani shopkeeper, they bond unexpectedly over their love of books and the loss of their respective spouses. As their friendship develops into something more, they and the village must decide what elements of culture and tradition are worth preserving and what should change with the times. It’s a gentle story about the ways people are different and the things that they have in common.

41oyve54sgl-_ac_us218_2011 Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier– Catrin, a young scribe, takes refuge from a mysterious danger in Whistling Tor, a crumbling fortress that belongs to Anluan, chieftain living under a curse. Retained to sort through some family documents, Catrin and Anluan form a surprising connection. But if they are to have a future together, Catrin must unravel the mysteries of Anluan’s family curse. This Beauty and the Beast variation incorporates elements of mystery, fantasy and romance.

81l67wbztml._ac_ul436_2010 The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton– In 1913, a little girl is discovered alone on a ship headed to Australia. She has nothing but a small suitcase with a book: a single volume of fairy tales. She is taken in and raised by a couple, but when they tell her the truth on her twenty first birthday, Nell goes to England to try to trace her real identity. The quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor, a Cornwall mansion that is home to the doomed Mountrachet family. But it’s not until many years later when Nell’s granddaughter Cassandra discovers the garden of the book’s title that the mystery can finally be solved. This book combines several elements I love: dual timelines, Gothic drama, and fairy tales.

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Freebie

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 31: Halloween Freebie! (Happy Halloween! Let your creativity run wild with a themed post to celebrate!)

For obvious reasons, most of these are creepy. Some are horror, some are psychological thrillers, ghost stories or fantasies. A few are some combination of the above. Some are set during Halloween, while others prove that weirdness is a year round thing.

51blghuph3l-_ac_us218_1. Down A Dark Hall by Lois Duncan- Apparently this is being made into a movie, something I didn’t know until just now! I look forward to it. The book is about Kit Gordy, a girl who is accepted to an exclusive boarding school. But something strange is happening at Blackwood Hall. Why have only four students been accepted to the school? Why are their letters to their parents getting lost? As the four students begin to suddenly develop extraordinary talents in science, math, and the arts, they begin to have bizarre dreams. By the time they learn the truth about Blackwood Hall, it may be too late for them to save themselves.

“For some reason it seemed to Kit that they were not covering any distance. The house stood above them still, no closer than it had been when they turned in at the gate. It was an illusion, she knew, something to do with the curve of the driveway and the angle at which they were approaching, but the car itself did not seem to be moving. It was as if the house were growing larger, reaching out its great, grey arms to gather them in. She could not move her eyes from the glowing windows, dancing before her like a hundred miniature suns. Kit shivered with the sensation of an icy wind blowing across her heart.”

51kdyehsspl-_ac_us218_2. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill- This has been adapted a lot. It was a popular stage play in London, as well as a 1989 made for TV film and a 2012 feature film starring Daniel Radcliffe. All of the adaptations make subtle changes to the story, which is chilling on its own.  Arthur Kipps is a solicitor, who must attend to the funeral and estate of his firm’s client, Mrs. Alice Drablow, who live alone in the secluded Eel Marsh House, which is cut off from civilization by marshes and sea frets. At the funeral, he sees a woman in black, who is being watched by a group of children. After the funeral, a high tide traps him at Eel Marsh House for several days, where he endures strange noises (a carriage accident, a child’s screams) and several sights of the Woman in Black. The locals seem reluctant to tell him anything about either Alice Drablow or the Woman in Black. But Arthur’s investigations have already put him, and everything he cares about in grave danger.

“No, no, you have none of you any idea. This is all nonsense, fantasy, it is not like this. Nothing so blood-curdling and becreepered and crude – not so…so laughable. The truth is quite other, and altogether more terrible.”

61r5owovtul-_ac_us218_3. Ghost Story by Peter Straub– Once again there is also a film version of this novel, that changes quite a bit. Check out the book first. Five old men who call themselves The Chowder Society, are lifelong friends. They gather occasionally to reminisce, and tell ghost stories. When one of these men dies, the others start to have dreams in which they also die.  They soon realize that one story is coming back to haunt them. Something they did many years ago could never be completely buried. Now it may be time for the Chowder Society to pay it’s debts.

What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?”
“I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me… the most dreadful thing…”

517tnjizool-_ac_us218_4. The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons- Siddons isn’t usually know for creepy stories like this one, but it’s definitely a successful departure from her usual work. It was made in to a TV movie in 2006, but I haven’t seen that. Colquitt and Walter are a young couple living happily in an Atlanta suburb. When construction starts on a vacant lot next door, they are mostly concerned about having less privacy. But as people move in they realize that something is happening. Something a lot worse than diminished privacy. They know the house can’t be haunted. It’s newly built! But it seems to strengthen the weaknesses and destroy the good of every person who moves into it.

“The room was bright and white and still and silent, but soundless sound roared and howled in it.”

51mysyx8uvl-_ac_us218_5. The Witches by Roald Dahl– I remember reading this with a sort of fascinated horror as a kid. My reaction to the film was similar.  It’s scary right from the beginning when we learn that the seven year old protagonist’s parents were killed in a car accident. At least that scared me, when I read it when I wasn’t all that much older. He goes to live with his grandmother who tells him about witches, people who look normal but are actually creatures who seek to kill human children. She used to hunt them, until an encounter with a witch cost her her thumb (which also terrified me when I was younger). When the grandmother gets ill, she and the boy go to  a hotel on the southern coast of England where she can recover. There, the boy encounters the yearly gathering of England’s witches, and is trapped in the hotel ballroom, where he overhears their plan to kill more English children. What follows is a tale that made me fear teachers and sympathize with mice. Unlike most children’s books the ending isn’t all happily ever after, either.

“In fairy-tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks, and they ride on broomsticks. But this is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES. The most important thing you should know about REAL WITCHES is this. Listen very carefully. Never forget what is coming next.”

51xtyclkg2l-_ac_us218_6. Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones– Polly Whitacker has two sets of memories. In one set, everything is normal. In the other, her life is tied up with that of cellist, Thomas Lynn. When the second set of memories begins to overpower the first, Polly realizes that someone has been trying to make her forget about Tom, whose life is at risk from supernatural forces. It’s a retelling of the Tam Lin legend (that is set on Halloween and features a pretty kickass heroine) as well as that of Thomas the Rhymer.  The last chapters are (intentionally, IMO) ambiguous, so don’t expect everything to be tied up neatly here.

“Mr. Lynn gave her one of his considering looks. “People are strange,” he said. “Usually they’re much stranger than you think. Start from there and you’ll never be unpleasantly surprised. Do you fancy doughnuts?”

51yxavao4l-_ac_us218_7. The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donoghue–  Ever since he almost drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten year old Jack has been terrified to go outdoors. He spends most of his time at home, drawing monsters. He often slips into trances when he does this, and  he has terrifying nightmares. His mother, Holly, hears strange sounds coming from the ocean at night. His father, Tim, wanders the beach, searching for a vision he once saw. Jack’s only friend, Nick, becomes entangled and obsessed with the power of Jack’s monster drawings. Only Jack knows the truth of what happened that day when he almost drowned, and why he can’t stop his drawings.

“In the dream house, the boy listened for the monster under his bed.”

41oplfqimil-_ac_us218_8. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters– Hundreds Hall has been home to the Ayers family for a generation. Once grand and impressive, it is now decayed and crumbling.  Dr. Faraday’s mother once worked there as a parlor maid. When he returns to the Hall, thirty years later, to treat a servant, he finds Mrs. Ayers, the matriarch, her son, Roderick, a wounded RAF airman who now oversees the family farm, and Caroline, her daughter, whom the locals call a natural spinster. Dr. Faraday becomes obsessed with all of them. After Caroline’s usually gentle dog, Gyp, attacks a visiting child, bad fortune seems to follow the Ayers family, as they are visited by fire, suicide, and worse. You could get into a debate with another reader about whether this is truly a ghost story, or a psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator. I’m of the belief that it’s a bit of both.

“The subliminal mind has many dark, unhappy corners, after all. Imagine something loosening itself from one of those corners. Let’s call it a—a germ. And let’s say conditions prove right for that germ to develop—to grow, like a child in the womb. What would this little stranger grow into? A sort of shadow-self, perhaps: a Caliban, a Mr Hyde. A creature motivated by all the nasty impulses and hungers the conscious mind had hoped to keep hidden away: things like envy and malice and frustration…”

41-kxlbhnl-_ac_us218_9. The Other by Thomas Tryon– Holland and Niles Perry are thirteen year old identical twins. Holland is spirited and mischievous while Niles is sweet and eager to please. When the boy’s father dies in an accident, their mother takes to her room, buried in grief. This leaves her sons to run around unsupervised. As Holland’s pranks become more dangerous and sinister, Niles begins to realize that he can no longer excuse his brother’s actions. There are several twists in this tale. One will probably not come as much of a surprise to contemporary readers. But keep reading, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is a film adaptation that wasn’t bad, but the book is (of course) better, so go for that first. Then, check out the film, if you enjoy it.

“Things cannot ever be the same again. Not for any of us. Not any more. We sometimes reach a point in our lives where we can’t ever go back again, we have to go on from there. All that was before is past now. It went too far. Everything has gone too far. It must stop, do you see? Now–it must–stop.
No more game?
No. No more game.”

51ryt4thtnl-_ac_us218_10. Danse Macabre by Stephan King– In the fall of 1978, Stephen King taught a course at the University of Maine, about “Themes of Supernatural Literature”, which ended up being at least as enlightening for the teacher as it was for the students. At that point, King had already established himself as a major writer of horror. Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining and  The Dead Zone, had all been released to acclaim and sales.  In this book, King explores why anyone would pay good money to buy a book that they know will make them frightened and uncomfortable. More than that, they will be angry if they aren’t scared/disturbed/grossed out. Why? In this book, King attempts to answer that question, with characteristic intelligence and humor.

“We fall from womb to tomb, from one blackness and toward another, remembering little of the one and knowing nothing of the other … except through faith.”