Thursday, October 27, 2011

The King of Horror

Here we are at the end of October, and though he's been mentioned a few times this month, Stephen King deserves his own post, in my opinion.  As an author whose name has been synonymous with the horror genre, Mr. King is my go-to anytime I want to scare myself silly.  His work, however, is more than just scary.  There are also tales of adventure, of fantasy, of love, of perseverance.  Here are my picks from Stephen King's body of work, and trust me, there's something for everyone.

If you don't want to be scared...  Try The Eyes of the Dragon.  King originally wrote this fairy-tale-like adventure story for his children, who at the time were too young to read his horror stories.  While there are definitely a few suspenseful moments, and the occasional bit of gore, this is definitely among the most gentle of King's stories.  The plot, one of brotherly love and good vs. evil, is one that will appeal to a wide range of readers.

If you've never read one of his novels...  Try The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.  A young girl gets separated from her family on a hiking trip, and makes her way back to civilization despite scary mishaps, and stays calm in part due to listening to a baseball game on her Walkman.  For those new to King, this is a great place to start.  (Side note: My mom, who hates to be scared, read this and loved it.  True story.)

If you haven't read a King novel in a few years...  I can't tell you how many people take breaks from certain authors...and then forget to go back!  I know I've been guilty of it!  So, if King is one you haven't read in a few years, or longer, you might try Cell (which I found to be really intense!) or Under the Dome (which reminded me a bit of The Stand, in a way). 

If you prefer fantasy...  Try The Dark Tower series.  Or, if you're not up for a new series, you might try The Talisman, which King wrote with Peter Straub.  If you like The Talisman, the duo also wrote a follow-up called The Black House

And finally, if you like to be scared in small doses...  Consider reading one of King's short story collections.  My personal favorite is Nightmares and Dreamscapes, in which King writes in tones from wry humor to stark terror.  I'll let you in on a secret here, too.  If you're a fan of audiobooks, you can't beat the recordings of these stories, voiced by narrators like Whoopi Goldberg, Rob Lowe, Tim Curry, Matthew Broderick and Jerry Garcia (just to name a few), as well as the author and his wife, Tabitha. 

Thanks for sharing a month's worth of scares with me!  I'll be back next week with a few things to look forward to in the coming months!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Top 10 on Tuesday: Vampires

Since Victorian times, tales of vampires have fascinated readers.  Here are some of the best of the best if you're looking to expand your dark, brooding horizons...

1.) A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness.  Yes, I know I keep mentioning it--I can't help myself.  Don't let the title fool you--vampires play a key role in this series opener, and they are considerably different from vamps you've come across in previous series!

2.) The Twilight Saga, by Stephenie Meyer.  While this series was originally marketed for young adults, adult readers have gone ga-ga for this series, complete with werewolves and sparkly undead.  If you're a fan of vampires and like a good story about love-triangles, you should check this out.

3.) Chronicles of the Vampires, by Anne Rice.  You can't mention vampires and leave out Ms. Rice.  While she has moved on from these tales, they remain iconic in the genre of vampire fiction.

4.) 'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King.  Classic King (his second novel), scary and dark but with a deeper message.  Don't believe me?  Go back and read it, and take note of his sly social commentary.  Scary on many levels!

5.) The Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series, by Laurell K. Hamilton.  For those who like their vampires dark, brooding, and sexy, this series is sure to please.  Not for the faint of heart!

6.) Dracula, by Bram Stoker.  Obviously, I mentioned this at the beginning of the month when talking about horror classics, but I'd be remiss if I didn't add it here.  The great-grand-daddy of modern vampire fiction, this is one every horror fan should read.

7.) The Sookie Stackhouse Series, by Charlaine Harris.  HBO's runaway hit series True Blood recently finished its fourth season, and has left fans salivating for more.  If you're one of those fans, you might consider reading the series that the show is based on to tide you over!

8.) Vampire Earth Series, by E.E. Knight.  A vampire/sci-fi crossover series that gives fans of both genres something to sink their teeth into.  If you're looking for something outside of traditional vampire fare, this is definitely one to try.

9.) The Strain Trilogy, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.  Brilliant apocalyptic story in which vampirism, here a viral strain, is introduced into the population of the US after an incident on an international plane.  Government agencies can't contain the contagion, and chaos ensues.  Very highly recommended--this series is a personal favorite.

10.) Jane and the Damned, by Janet Mullaney.  What would Jane Austen have been liked if she'd been turned into a vampire against her will?  Become a superhero, of course!  Tongue-in-cheek vampire lit for the Jane Austen fans--vastly entertaining!

See everyone back here on Thursday for the final October post, a tribute to the King of Horror.  Keep reading!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hauntings and Houses

While we've touched on hauntings in other posts this month, I'd like to take a moment to talk about my absolute favorites when it comes to fiction about hauntings and haunted buildings.  As I've mentioned, I adore Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House (really, you owe it to yourself to take the time to read this) and Stephen King's Bag of Bones (creepy, but with a love story that never fails to move me).  As always, though, there is always more to read, and what a great problem to have!  So, if Ghosthunters or Paranormal Activity are a few of the things that give you goosebumps, here are a few novels right up your alley.

 Heart Shaped Box, by Joe Hill.  With a fast-paced plot and surprises at every turn, Hill's debut was a memorable ghost story.  Aging rock star Judas Coyne has a growing collection of curios and oddities, so when the opportunity arises to purchase a suit supposedly haunted by its former owner, he's eager to buy.  When the spirit attached to the clothing turns out to be the father of one of Coyne's former groupies, once discarded and then dead by her own hand, who seems to be bent on avenging his daughter's suicide.  Hill, however, writes with such nuance that just when you think you have everything figured out, he turns the whole story on its ear.  One of those great stories that you just can't seem to read fast enough, because you can't wait to find out what happens next.  Go get it!

The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill.  This is atmospheric, gothic horror at its finest.  Set on an isolated English moor, the story of young solicitor Arthur Kipps starts innocently enough, as he comes north to attend the funeral and settle the estate of a client.  Upon his arrival at the old manor house, however, what started as an ordinary business trip becomes increasingly more disturbing as sinister forces within the house manifest.  If you are in the mood for a traditional chiller, you cannot go wrong here.  ps--Daniel Radcliffe is starring in the movie, which will be released in early 2012.

Ghosts: The Story of a Reunion, by Adrian Plass.  As much a tale of loss as it is a chilling story of a haunting, Plass's ghosts are people, too.  David Herrick suffers from nightmares when he tries to sleep, and from raw grief while he's awake, following the death of his wife, Jessica.  When Jessica's best friend, Angela, contacts David, it's to let him know that she possesses one final thing left for him by Jessica.  The stipulation, however, is that he travel to Angela's home, reported to be haunted, in order to claim it.  Ghosts take many forms and play many roles in this story, from scary to sympathetic.  Definitely not a ghost story soon forgotten.

I'm back next week with a new Top 10 on Tuesday, and an homage to the King of Horror.  See you then!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Top 10 on Tuesday: My Favorite Monsters

It’s that time again—time for another list!  This week, it’s all about monsters in various scary forms.  Whether you don’t go swimming in the ocean (or the pool…) because of sharks, or museums creep you out with all the mummies, I’ve got a monster book for you.  Enjoy!

1.  Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton.  Sure, you’ve seen the movie, but films always leave some of the best stuff out.  In this case, print gives you more dinosaurs and more detail, as well as Crichton’s signature thriller style. 

2.  The Strange Caseof Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson.  The chilling classic was actually a story of something that gave the author nightmares as a child, a double life, only half of which was anything close to normal.

3.  Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux.  Part gothic romance, part tragedy, with an overall creepy vibe, Leroux’s classic features the disfigured phantom prowling the Paris Opera House and menacing cast and crew alike until driven to the point of obsession by the fair diva, Christine.   

4.  Jaws, by Peter Benchley.  Even after over thirty-five years, this menacing shark tale (inspired by actual events in New Jersey in 1916) is still more than scary enough to keep you out of the water!

5.  The Shining, by Stephen King.  When a man accepts a caretaker position at a remote mountain resort one winter, he brings his family into a place where madness lives, and he himself becomes a monster to be feared. 

6.  The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells.  Scientist Griffin discovers a method to become invisible, then cannot find a way to reverse the process.  Stuck beyond the human norm, madness and despair quickly ensue.

7.  American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis.  When is enough enough?  For one Wall Street yuppie, the answer is never, in all cases including murder.  What’s scarier?  The man as monster, or the society he represents? 

8. Usher’s Passing, by Robert McCammon.  A haughty, aristocratic family living in the heart of the North Carolina mountains is the lynchpin in this novel where mountain children disappear every year, and a monster known as The Pumpkin Man roams the woods.  This one may keep you up at night.

9. The Passage, by Justin Cronin.  Lauded by horror vet King as a standout, The Passage is everything a modern vampire story could hope to be—including scary!

10. The Loch, by Steve Alten.  Nessie may as well be a bath toy compared to Alten’s hungry monster of the famous Scottish loch.  Suspenseful, a little gruesome, and a true ode to the mysteries of the deep.

Keep it spooky, and I'll be back on Thursday with more tales of terror!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Horror Sci-Fi crossovers

Horror is like the cranberry of the fiction world: it goes well with just about every other flavor.  Fantasy, historical fiction, name it, and horror makes a great counterpoint.  Today’s list? Horror mixed with science fiction.  These are some of the coolest horror stories out there, and a great break from what we consider “typical” horror stories.

Ancestor, by Scott Sigler.  On a remote island in the Canadian Arctic, a group of geneticists have discovered a veritable holy grail of medical science: a computer-engineered living organism whose organs can be transplanted into any human without any chance of rejection.  The only problem?  These creatures are anything but docile.  Science, snow, and plenty of scares.

Hull Zero Three, by Greg Bear.  Bear has been at the forefront of the horror/sci-fi genre for over ten years (i.e. check out his other work).  In this, his latest, on a starship somewhere in deep space and on an unknown mission, a man wakes up naked, freezing, and without memory of who he is or how he got there.  While monsters roam the halls of the ship, the man’s fellow survivors may be even more dangerous.  So many questions to answer, so many heart-thumping moments! 

Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson.  Two decades in the future, our lives have been streamlined by the use of AI, robots operating everything from our kitchens and cars to our phones and workplaces.  They care for our children, cook our food, and perform all the dirty, physical labor we’d rather not do.  So what happens when a powerful AI computer goes rogue, and suddenly, humans are fighting for survival against all of the technology they’ve depended on, which is now rebelling?  Seriously eerie—you may never look at your cell phone or GPS the same way again!

Next week, we look at monster fiction!  See you then!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top 10 on Tuesday: Scary Supernatural Novels

It’s temptingly easy to just lump all horror books together, but in reality, there are lots of subgenres.  Here are my top ten supernatural horror novels! 
1. The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty.  The frightening and controversial novel that spawned one of the scariest movies ever made.  I won’t lie, this one still scares me!

2. IT, by Stephen King.  And we wonder why so many people suffer from coulrophobia.  Which came first?  IT or the fear?

3.  The Witching Hour, by Anne Rice.  A dynasty of witches four centuries in the making has been haunted through time by an insidious presence

4.  Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin.  Rosemary wakes up one morning to find herself pregnant and her soul apparently sold.  Reality blurs for both Rosemary and reader in Levin’s (The Stepford Wives) classic.

5.  Carrie, by Stephen King.  High school misfit becomes prom queen in an elaborate prank.  Word to the wise—don’t piss off the telekinetic.

6.  Coldheart Canyon, by Clive Barker.  A Hollywood ghost story treading lightly along the edge of dark fantasy.  A room brought in its entirety from a Romanian monastery to a Hollywood mansion bestows its owner with supernatural powers.

7.  The Stand, by Stephen King.  The ultimate struggle of good and evil in a post-plague society where nothing, and no one, is as it seems.

8.  Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury.  Two teenagers confront evil in the form of a dark and diabolical carnival that arrives in their small Midwestern town.

9.  Tales of Terror, by Edgar Allen Poe.  In recent years, Poe seems to have been deemed literature suitable for children.  These dark, brooding tales, I find, are definitely not fare for bedtime stories.

10.  The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde.  Cautionary tale with a supernatural twist. Gray’s portrait is corrupted by his age and acts, instead of his mortal self.

You’ll notice as you read through that there’s a LOT of variety here for all having a similar theme.  It just goes to show that there are many sides to any genre, and I encourage you to branch out and try new things!

Anything you’d want to add to the list?  Leave a reply in the comments!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A few of my favorite (scary) things

If you’ve read through a few (or more) of my entries, you know by now that I am a reader of many things.  I suppose it’s like anything—I change things up to keep myself interested.  I’ll go a stretch reading lots of thrillers, switch to fantasy for a month, then move on to bestsellers of random genres before I’m on to mysteries, and back again.  I’m not a genre reader, I’m just a reader. 

That said?  I love to be scared!  I gasp and jump watching scary movies (even better when in the theater and everyone does it!).  I love thrillers that keep me guessing to the very last page, or even better, beyond.  I’ve read lots of thrillers and horror novels over the years, and here are a few of the ones I love most.

Bag of Bones, by Stephen King.  This will not be the last time you see this name this month, believe me.  Some people swear they can’t read his work, that it is just too scary.  As with all things, there’s something for everyone when it comes to Mr. King’s work.  This is a hefty one, but certainly not the scariest.  Instead, it’s more of a modern twist on the gothic ghost story; indeed, on more than one occasion, King refers to Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca.  Somehow managing to be both character and plot driven, the story is intensely psychological in all the right ways.  I’ll be completely honest—this is one that I have re-read, and I don’t re-read much.  I pick up new subtleties and nuances with each reading, and love it more every time.  Michael Noonan, the main character, is a man set adrift after losing his wife, and while the story touches on his loss, it is ultimately about him finding himself and his way again one summer in rural Maine.  If you missed this one, or never thought to read King’s work, I’m going to ask you to trust me and try it. 

Fear Nothing, by Dean Koontz.  Fear Nothing (and its sequel, Seize theNight) follow Christopher Snow, who has had a rather rough life.  His parents died under mysterious circumstances, and now Snow is being stalked by people who want to keep those circumstances a secret.  In addition, he has a rare genetic disorder, XP (xeroderma pigmentosum), which forces him to avoid all forms of light.  Koontz manages to make Snow and friends funny, sympathetic and extremely well-drawn in the midst of a thriller plot that drags you through the pages just as fast as you can read.  As above with King, Koontz has something for everyone among his novels.

The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris.   You're probably familiar with the theatrical adaptation, but have you ever taken the time to read the book?  If you've seen the movie, you're familiar with the plot.  What wound up being left out of the script or on the cutting room floor, however, is a lot of great character background and nuance to both Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter, as well as Starling's boss, Jack Crawford.  If you somehow have managed not to see the movie or read the book, here's a quick catch-up.  FBI profiler Jack Crawford asks young trainee Clarice Starling to run an errand: question the brilliant forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter about a series of grisly murders (the Buffalo Bill killings) the FBI are investigating.  Except Lecter is a cannibal and sociopath, serving nine life sentences in a Maryland mental institution for his own series of slayings.  What follows is a riveting story of Starling as pawn, alternately moved by Lecter and Crawford for their own reasons.  Absolutely worth every page.

I'll be back with more titles to send goosebumps down your arms next week. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October kickoff--scary classics

It’s finally here!  I know, I’ve talked about it enough, right?  I can’t help it—I love October.  Nights chilly enough for a quilt, but still some warm, clear days.  The leaves changing.  And round-the-clock monster movie marathons!  What, I don’t seem like the monster movie type?  Never judge a book by its cover!  I love scary movies, and of course, I love scary books, too!  October’s posts are going to be all about things that go bump in the night, and I hope you’ll join me.  Don’t think you like scary stories?  I hope you’ll let me prove you wrong—I promise, there will be something for everyone this month.  And as with any series, I like to start at the beginning.  Here are a few classic horror tales to get you in the mood. 

Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley.  Though Shelley’s name did not appear until the second edition was published in 1823, the novel was originally published anonymously in London in 1818.  A colleague of Lord Byron, John Polidori (writer of the first vampire story in English), and her eventual husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley had long discussions about the occult with the aforementioned writers.  The four had a wager on who could write the best horror story, and Shelley wound up dreaming about a scientist who created life and then was horrified by the result.  The rest, as they say, is history.  (Needless to say, Mary Shelley won the wager.)  If you haven’t read it, it really is a phenomenal story, especially considering the time in which it was written, and who wrote it.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker.  Written in 1897, by Irish author Stoker, this is one of the grand-daddies of the horror genre.  In a series of letters, diary entries and ships’ logs by several different narrators (Jonathan Harker and his fiancĂ©e, Mina Murray among them), the reader meets the infamous Count Dracula.  After meeting Jonathan Harker, Dracula leaves Transylvania and begins to track Mina and her friend, Lucy.  When left unattended one night, Lucy is killed, only to rise from the dead as a vampire.  Once friends realize what has happened, they return Lucy to her eternal rest and then, led by Professor Van Helsing, they pursue Dracula back to Transylvania to put an end to his curse once and for all.  Darkly gothic, brooding, and atmospheric—this is one that every fan of vampire and horror novels should revisit.

Shirley Jackson.  A major influence of modern writers like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, Jackson is best known for her short stories, especially The Lottery, and her short novel, The Haunting of Hill House.  The latter has been noted by many as one of the most important horror novels of the 20th century, and has been made into two film versions, in 1963 and 1999, both called The Haunting.  Both titles are psychological thrillers, the second with a ghost story tie-in, and are absolute masterpieces.

Hope you’ve enjoyed our creepy little blast from the past, and that you’ll check out one or more of these dark classics.  Call me a dork, but I love seeing where some of the trends of fiction today have their roots.  See you Thursday when I’ll give you a list of my personal suspense and horror favorites!