Sunday, 15 October 2017

Halloween Reads 2017

I love stories about ghosts and witches, and things that go bump in the night. I especially love frightening myself half-to-death reading them in the weeks leading up to Halloween! My favourites are ghostly, historical gothics, such as The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell and This House is Haunted by John Boyne, but this year I did step out of my comfort zone with Dark Matter, a brilliant twist on the haunted house story, set in the Arctic circle.

I've rated all these books five star 'Halloween Reads' but they are not all ghost stories. The Witchfinder's Sister is based on real events. The Yellow Wallpaper is a little gem of a psychological suspense (and currently free on Kindle). The humour of Mystery at Maplemead Castle will have you in stitches.

But whatever you love to read, I'm sure there's something for everyone!

Happy Halloween!




The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

Elsie Bainbridge, newly married, newly widowed, arrives at her husband's crumbling ancestral home to wait for her baby to be born, with only the company of a few resentful servants and her husband's widowed cousin, Sarah. When Elsie and Sarah explore the house they find two wooden props, skillfully painted to look like children, hidden away in a locked garret: a girl and a gypsy boy - and the girl looks just like Elsie.

Historical, dual-timeline, psychological suspense, gothic, paranormal.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Despite the age gap between Merry and her older sister Marjorie, they have a close, loving relationship - until Marjorie starts to behave strangely. Is she having a psychotic breakdown, or has she been possessed by a demon? Or is she just faking the whole thing? When the medical profession are unable to help, her parents call in the local catholic priest. It's then that events spiral out of control and the family find themselves starring in a TV reality show called The Possession.

Contemporary, psychological suspense, paranormal.

This House is Haunted by John Boyne

It's 1867 and Eliza Caine has just taken the post of governess at Gaudlin Hall - the previous governess is so keen to hightail it out of there, she passes Eliza at the train station on her way back to London. The house is huge, gothic, and very creepy. It appears to run without any servants and there is no sign of any other adult - just two very strange young children. What happened to the five governesses before her? And why does she get the impression that someone really, really doesn't want her there?

Historical, gothic, paranormal.

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Dark Matter is a ghost story with a difference. Instead of the traditional haunted house, it takes place on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the middle of an Arctic winter - four months of complete darkness. Five men set out on an expedition, one-by-one they all fall by the wayside until only one is left completely alone in the snowy wilderness. Or is he?

Historical, psychological suspense, paranormal.

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

Newly widowed, Alice returns to Essex to live with her brother, Matthew Hopkins. One of the servants tells her he has a great book that has the names of all the witches written down in it. Yet this is the 17th century - who believes in witches?

But in the town there is talk. Young children have died and people are saying it was done with witchcraft. Intimidated by her brother, Alice remains quiet, believing the women will be found innocent. Instead, more women are seized and imprisoned, and now Matthew wants Alice to help him.

Historical, true-life.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The narrator has recently moved to a large, decaying house with her husband to recover from 'temporary nervous depression'. Her husband, who is also her doctor, has refused to let her work (write), so she has nothing to occupy her mind other than to lounge about their bedroom and obsess about the wallpaper. She feels that, 

"There is something strange about the house - I can feel it. I even said so to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window."

Historical, psychological suspense.

The Lost Village by Neil Spring

In 1932 famous ghost hunter Harry Price and his assistant, Sarah, travel to an uninhabited village on Salisbury Plain, currently being used as a training ground by the British Army, to investigate exactly what it is that has got the soldiers so spooked.

(Released on 19th October 2017).

Historical, gothic, paranormal.

Mystery at Maplemead Castle by Kitty French

At the grand old age of 27, Melody 'I see dead people' Bittersweet has decided to stop fighting the unique talent which is persistently getting her fired/losing her potential boyfriends, and has set up The Girls' Ghostbusting Agency. Along for the ride are best friend Marina, the terrifyingly efficient Glenda, and naive young Artie, who has just enough sense to dig the girls out of trouble if they need it. In this story, Melody and her friends investigate Maplemead Castle and find it haunted by circus folk - two trapeze artists and their ringmaster - doomed to repeat the events that led to their deaths every single night. 

Contemporary, cosy mystery, humour, romance, paranormal.

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Psychic Manfred Bernardo has just moved to to the town of Midnight in Texas, which is basically just a few run-down stores around an intersection with one set of traffic lights. His new neighbours seem friendly enough, if a little ... strange ... but he's sure he's going to fit in just fine. He's right about that, because while Manfred has a few secrets in his past, it's nothing compared to those of his new friends.

Contemporary, cosy mystery, paranormal, supernatural.


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10 Books Which Chilled Me (on my personal blog)

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Review: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Dark Matter is a ghost story with a difference. Instead of the traditional haunted house, it takes place on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the middle of an Arctic winter - four months of complete darkness.

The story is told in the form of a journal written in 1937 by Jack Miller. Impoverished by misfortune, he feels he's missed out on fulfilling his dream of being a physicist and jumps at the chance to go on an Arctic expedition. But one by one each member of his team falls by the wayside and soon he is left completely alone in the snowy wilderness. Or is he?

"Gruhuken seems to have had a dismal past. I don't want any of it poking through."

Dark Matter is not the kind of thing I usually read (Arctic expedition, etc) but I absolutely loved it. The style of writing, the incredible detail about life in the Arctic - the amount of research the author must have undertaken! Menace is slowly built up, layer upon layer, until the shocking truth of what happened at Gruhuken is revealed. My nerves were shredded.

If you're looking for a thoroughly chilling (in more ways than one!) Halloween read - this is it. Also, great illustrations! Recommended!


Note: The book is shorter than it looks. On Kindle it ended at 85%. The remainder is made up of the author's notes (fascinating!), a Q&A, and a sample of her next book.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Review: The Lost Village (Ghost Hunters #2) by Neil Spring

I was attracted to this book by the deliciously creepy cover - I do love a traditional ghost story! At the time, I had not read the first book in the series (The Ghost Hunters) but I had seen the ITV adaptation. With hindsight, I should have read The Ghost Hunters first. I have now! There is quite a lot of past history between the main characters, Harry Price and Sarah Grey, explaining their unusual relationship - although the author does cover this in the early chapters.

The Lost Village starts in 1978 when Sarah hears a news story about the discovery of a child's remains in an uninhabited village on Salisbury Plain. It then cuts to 1932, when Sarah and Harry turn up at the same village - used as a training ground by the British Army - to investigate exactly what it is about the place that has got the soldiers so spooked.

The story was far scarier than the first one in the series, quite dark in places, and there are some genuinely chilling moments. While I loved the character of Harry Price in the first novel, here he doesn't seem quite so likeable. And although I can relate to Sarah being fascinated by such a larger-than-life character, I couldn't quite see that there was any more to their relationship than that.

Having said that, I did enjoy The Lost Village. While it didn't terrify me, it was scary enough to raise a few chills. I loved the setting of an abandoned village. There was also a spooky old house, church bells that rang themselves, séances, lots of double-crossing, and a few good twists I didn't see coming. I loved the scene at the end, when Imber's secret was revealed, although the final revelation was possibly a twist too far.

If you're in the mood for a gothic ghost story, The Lost Village makes the perfect Halloween read - but I would definitely recommend reading the first book in the series before this one, to fully appreciate the three main characters and their relationship with each other. 


Rating: 4.5 rounded up to 5 stars
I was lucky enough to read an advance copy. The Lost Village will be published on 19th October 2017.

Thank you to Neil Spring, Quercus, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Related Post:

Review: The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring

Monday, 9 October 2017

Review: This House is Haunted by John Boyne

This House is Haunted is set in 1867, when Eliza Caine takes the post of governess at Gaudlin Hall. She should have suspected something was not quite right when she learned that the advert for the job was placed by the previous governess, not the master of the house. And that the other woman is so keen to hightail it out of there, she literally passes Eliza on the train platform on her way back to London.

In the tradition of all the best ghost stories, as soon as Eliza tells anyone where she works they look shifty and quickly change the subject. The house is huge, gothic, and very creepy. It appears to run without any servants and there is no sign of any other adult - just two very strange young children. What happened to the five other governesses before her? And why does she get the impression that someone really, really doesn't want her there?

I absolutely loved this book. It's brilliantly written, in the style of a traditional Victorian ghost story, but ever-so-slightly tongue-in-cheek. I adored Eliza, particularly her dry sense of humour and her ability to stand up to all those (male) authority figures who try to tell her she's imagining things when she tells them, 'This house is haunted'.

If you've read a lot ghost stories it won't be too hard to work out how it all ends, but it didn't spoil my enjoyment. Recommended, particularly to fans of Susan Hill and stories such as The Woman in Black. One of my favourite books this year! 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Review: The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring

As a teenager I devoured ghost stories, particularly true-life ghost stories, and I soon learnt about Borley Rectory, 'the most haunted house in England' and the man who investigated it - Harry Price. So I was thrilled to discover this series of books written by Neil Spring (the second one is called The Lost Village), which give a fictional account of Harry Price's most famous cases.

The real-life Harry Price was a fascinating, larger-than-life character, and this comes across very well. Despite the title, the book is more historical mystery than ghost story, although there are a few chilling moments towards the end. It covers a twenty year period and, in addition to Borley Rectory, there are accounts of Harry's other well-known cases - he was famous for exposing fake mediums and 'haunted' house hoaxes. The book is packed with historical detail, and the nerd in me loved the illustrations, photographs, floor plans of the rectory, and the newspaper 'cuttings' about other ghostly legends. I loved the character of Harry, even though he was deeply flawed and (in the story) seemed to let down his friends and family on a regular basis.

Fans of traditional ghost stories and jump shocks should look elsewhere for their thrills, but if you love historical mysteries about real-life people and places, with a hint of the paranormal, then this is the book for you. Recommended - and I do love that cover! 


Related Post:

Review: The  Lost Village (Ghost Hunters #2) by Neil Spring

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Review: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I downloaded this one because it was referenced in the last book I read, Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts. Also, it's a short story (about 30 pages) and free - and I'm shallow, what can I say? But I'm really glad I did, because it's a fabulous little psychological suspense about a woman slowly driven mad - by her wallpaper!

"One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin."

The story was written in 1892, in the form of a journal, and has pertinent things to say about how mental illness was viewed in those times, along with women's role in society. Despite the sad subject matter there are flashes of dry humour and the author's introduction at the beginning explains how she was inspired to write the story after suffering from post-natal depression.

The narrator has recently moved to a large, decaying house with her husband to recover from 'temporary nervous depression'. Her husband, who is also her doctor, has refused to let her work (write), so she has nothing to occupy her mind other than to lounge about their bedroom and obsess about the wallpaper. She feels that, 

"There is something strange about the house - I can feel it. I even said so to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window."

It's a little gem of a story, and I'm so pleased I discovered it. There are several free versions available to download, but I chose the Wisehouse Classics one because I liked the cover (yes, shallow!) and it contained the original illustrations.

Related Post:

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

This is an extremely clever, brilliantly written, creepy little psychological suspense/horror. The author seems to love the same horror movies and novels as me, because the book is chock-full of references to them, especially The Exorcist, and I had great fun spotting them all.

A Head Full of Ghosts is about eight year old Merry and her older sister Marjorie, who is fourteen. Despite the age gap the sisters have a close, loving relationship, until Marjorie starts to behave strangely. Is she having a psychotic breakdown, or has she been possessed by a demon? Or is she just faking the whole thing? When the medical profession are unable to help, her parents call in the local catholic priest. It's then that events spiral out of control and the family find themselves starring in a TV reality show called The Possession.

The narrator is Merry, both as an eight year old and then, fifteen years later, telling her story to a journalist writing a book about the events. It took me a while to grasp that the 'fifteen years ago' is actually the present and the adult Merry is telling her story from fifteen years in the future. I was pulled out of the story a few times with the references to smart phones, thinking 'I'm sure smart phones weren't invented fifteen years ago' before I worked it out. Merry's narrative is also interrupted by extracts from a horror fan's blog, written in a very bouncy style, which I actually really liked - it was a nice contrast to the bleak bits!

Anyway, I absolutely loved this book and I now have a new favourite author. I would recommend it to fans of psychological suspense, and authors such as Henry James (Turn of the Screw) and Shirley Jackson (We Have Always Lived at the Castle). However, anyone looking for a traditional horror story might find the shocks are a bit spaced out. Be aware that the story is bleak in places - and watch out for a twist so subtle you might miss it. And that the last 10% of the book is comprised of additional material, including the author's notes (fascinating!), and questions for book clubs, so it's shorter than it appears.