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Posts Tagged ‘Halloween Reads’

Halloween Party my copyThis was one of the first Agatha Christie mysteries I read, and, back then, I found it a bit slow. This time around, however, I really enjoyed the book. I believe that’s in part because I am so much more invested in Hercule Poirot as a character.

For newcomers to Poirot, I suggest starting with the novel that introduced him, The Mysterious Affair at Styles—one of Christie’s best. Hallowe’en Party is one of her later novels, written in 1969, and it’s a bit more nuanced. When I picked it up for the second time, I did so in eagerness to read more about Poirot and his occasional cohort, the quirky Mrs. Ariadne Oliver—a sort of literary avatar of Christie herself. I was likewise pleased to encounter Superintendent Spence on the scene. That is one of the great pleasures of reading Christie for me—the recurring cameos of previous characters. Also, this time I got all the apple jokes.

That is not to discount the plot of Hallowe’en Party. It’s another of Christie’s intricately woven puzzles, and I enjoyed the different threads as they delved into mysterious deaths and sidetracked into red herrings. The story begins with preparations for the title event, and I found the British take on Halloween fascinating. No trick or treat, but several spooky games and also, significantly, bobbing for apples. Christie makes use of autumn imagery such as late Michaelmas daisies and the slanting sun, to give the novel the gauzy feel of a late November afternoon.

This is one of Christie’s “village mysteries”, and although Woodleigh Common is a newer community, Poirot uncovers a myriad of past secrets. He also discovers a strange and menacing garden:

“There was an atmosphere here. He tried to pin it down. It had qualities of magic, of enchantment, certainly of beauty, bashful beauty, yet wild. Here, if you were staging a scene in the theatre, you would have your nymphs, your fauns, you would have Greek beauty, you would have fear too. Yes, he thought, in this sunk garden is fear.”

The theatrical Christie seems to be alluding to is Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with a precocious 12-year-old “Miranda” who is like a woodland sprite flitting about the tree branches and the rocky, overgrown paths.

Much like the garden, the book is at times enchanting and theatrical—especially the party scenes—but there is a dark, disquieting undertone. Bad things happen to some of the children and there is even a town witch. This is a perfect Halloween read with a couple of nice twists in the resolution.

Finally, it warmed my heart that Hallowe’en Party is dedicated to P.G. Wodehouse (a great lover of detective fiction himself), “whose books and stories have brightened [Christie’s] life for many years.”

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Halloween Bats Full MoonThis month, I have been gearing up for Halloween by reading books about Murder, Monsters & Mayhem, a spookfest from Jenn’s Bookshelves.

Here are some scary book suggestions for after the trick-or-treating. And don’t forget to give a book for #AllHallowsRead!

The First Books That Terrified Me

Join the Readalong of 11/22/63 by Stephen King

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Death in the City of Light by David King

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton

Two Brilliant, Haunting Short Shorts

Give a BOO-k for All Hallow’s Read!

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OrangeCover“What was the first book to terrify you?” asks Jenn of Jenn’s Bookshelves.

For me, it was A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.

These two books first terrified me in a way that I hadn’t known reading could do. Neither is a typical horror story, but both of these books gave me nightmares… more

Read my guest post at Jenn’s Bookshelves!

 

What was the first book that terrified you?

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Ocean at the End of the Lane lgPhantasmagorical is how I would describe Neil Gaiman’s novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

That is not to say this is a book of pure fantasy. Gaiman grounds his story in the ordinary, as told from the viewpoint of a seven-year old, unnamed boy. His father burns the toast each morning, his sister annoys him, and his great excitement is the weekly arrival of the new SMASH! comic.

This story feels real even as it veers off into the fantastic. The monsters are both human (his father, the opal miner) and supernatural (Ursula Monkton), and the shadows that lurk are predatory. There’s also a clever and creepy-crawly twist on the space-time theory of wormholes. All of this becomes plausible via Gaiman’s dark magical realism.

However, it is the emotional pull that gives this book its heft. Gaiman really taps into the fears of childhood, whether it’s the need for a hall light at bedtime or the helplessness of being in the grip of a menacing adult. The reader feels how important a kitten, or a new friend, can be to an awkward, bookish boy.

The whole story is permeated with a sense of loss—the loss of childhood, the loss of familiar things, the loss of loved ones. We first meet the narrator as a middle-aged adult, returning to his boyhood home for a funeral. The house is gone, replaced by tract housing, and most of the area is beyond recognition.

This particularly resonated with me, as I too went back to my childhood home to find that all the places once sacred to us kids were gone. The forest, where we believed a witch lived; the apple grove, where we climbed trees; and the tiny fish pond—all scraped and replaced by new houses with manicured gardens.

Though most of the novel takes place when the narrator is seven, this is not a children’s book. There are some very mature and disturbing themes. The bathtub scene, in particular, really rattled me, and my one complaint is that Gaiman never fully resolves this. I think best for parents to read first.

Early on, the young hero tells us that he “liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories.” This seems to be exactly what Gaiman is aiming for with The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is a mythical, frightening, and mostly satisfying read.

This would be perfect pick for a gift for Neil Gaiman’s own #AllHallowsRead or as a scary read for the Halloween meme #Mx3 at Jenn’s Bookshelves.

Halloween Reads on Word Hits:

Join Us for a Readalong of 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Death in the City of Light by David King

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton

Give a BOO-k for All Hallow’s Read

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Ghost Stories of Edith WhartonIf a book could at once be chilling and cosy, that is how I would describe The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. The settings of these tales will be familiar to Wharton’s readers: old New York, rambling country estates, wintry New England, and the Europe of American expats.

Moody and atmospheric, each story quickly drew me in, and I felt that wonderful, familiar pleasure in reading Wharton. But very soon, things begin to go off.

As I read, I grew tense and unsettled. While these are not horror stories, they leave you feeling creeped out and vulnerable. (I had to switch to lighter fare at bedtime.)

Wharton evokes the mysterious and supernatural. As she does to her characters, Wharton keeps the reader guessing about what is actually going on. These stories reminded me very much of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.

Ironically, this ambiguity gives the stories a realistic, firsthand quality. You get that same tingle that you would when sitting around a campfire in the woods. Except in Wharton’s version, it’s a dwindling fire in the dark library of a “damp Gothic villa.” Wharton sets one of these villas in Irvington, New York—named for Washington Irving (famed for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”). Wharton was also a great fan of Edgar Allen Poe.

In the book’s introduction, British crime writer David Stuart Davies explains that Wharton was at once terrified of and fascinated by ghost stories.

“I could not sleep in a room with a book containing ghost stories and that I have frequently had to burn books of this kind because it frightened me to know they were downstairs in the library.”—Edith Wharton, A Backward Glance

Perhaps this fascination with the paranormal has carried on into Wharton’s own afterlife? Her home The Mount has been the scene of many ghost sightings. They’ve even posted online gallery of spooky images and offer “ghost tours.”

I highly recommend this book. It offers all the joy of reading Edith Wharton, plus some very spooky moments. Said Wharton of a good ghost story:

“If it sends a cold shiver down one’s spine, it has done its job and done it well.”

She has achieved just that!

This would be perfect pick for a gift for Neil Gaiman’s #AllHallowsRead or as a scary read for the Halloween meme #Mx3 at Jenn’s Bookshelves.

NOTE: There are several collections of Wharton’s ghost stories. I chose the Wordsworth Edition (paperback; published 2009;  ISBN: 9781840221640) as it had the most stories. I also really enjoyed the forward by Davies.

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