Monday, October 24, 2016

Haunting Reads

Earlier this year I had a rare opportunity to make some horror recommendations for a library user who likes creepy mysteries, horror, and ghost stories. What luck! I exploded with ideas. Since we're getting close to Halloween, I thought this would be the perfect time to pull out my choices for anyone looking for a last-minute haunting read.

 I’ve broken down my selections into classics, newer releases, and graphic novels, depending on what type of reading experience you’re looking for.


Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

These days a story about a group of people investigating a haunted house has become a well-worn trope, but this book helped define 20th century supernatural horror. This is The Book you want to read if you like psychological horror, mysteries, and intricate character development. The 1963 film The Haunting is based on this book, and is amazing in its own right. But Jackson’s original story is so eerie and surreal that it will take up permanent residence in a shadowy back corner of your mind.

Hell House by Richard Matheson

While the premise of Hell House is very much the same as Jackson’s novel, it remains distinct in my mind. It deals with much nastier horrific elements than “Haunting” does, so it has more violence and examples of sexual perversion that have essentially infected the titular house. It has a slow build with a flurry of intense activity, and has much more about parapsychology and spiritualism if you enjoy those topics. Hill House takes its time swaying visitors into staying forever, but Hell House wants to corrupt and destroy those who disturb its rest. This too has been adapted to film as “The Legend of Hell House.”

The Shining by Stephen King

Of my three classics, I think “The Shining” is probably the best known film adaptation of a book. But you may not know that Kubrick’s 1980 film is not exactly what Stephen King had in mind (to put it lightly) which is why he wrote his own TV mini-series adaptation in 1997. In this story, Jack Torrance takes a job as a caretaker for the Overlook Hotel, dooming his wife and son to an entire winter season stuck inside the haunted locale. His son, Danny, has strong psychic abilities, which wakes up the Overlook and begins to drive Jack to madness. King’s version of a haunted house story is not just about the ghosts, however. It’s a book about family, addiction, violence, isolation, and connection. If you love it, you can even read its recent sequel, “Doctor Sleep.”


House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves is not that recent, but it’s such a different book from my other classics, it needed to be with other 21st century literature. If you want to know what it must be like to be worked on by a house (or a story, or a book) that has a mind of its own, this is the book for you. If you like puzzles, this is one you will never solve, but can’t resist trying. If you give in to it, you will fall farther down the rabbit hole than you ever have before. I recommend taking this in small chunks, and scheduling some time outside in the sunlight and fresh air to reconnect with reality in between reading sessions.

Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Deciding to be a writer when you’re Stephen King’s son has to be a tough gig, but Joe Hill is an excellent author in his own right. He has his own unique, modern twist on horror storytelling, and has even been extremely successful writing graphic novels (which I’ll get into below). This was his debut novel, about an aging, reclusive rock star that buys macabre objects. He lives to regret purchasing an actual ghost, attached to a suit contained in a heart shaped box, when the ghost takes control of him to exact revenge for past sins.

Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

If you’re a fan of haunted house stories like I am, this is my top recommendation for a modern version. It clearly relies on a classic structure, but brings its own unique twists to the table, including a protagonist that remains a bit of a mystery himself. We know he’s European, and has inherited a house in America from a cousin he never knew about, but seems curiously linked to. He and his mute friend explore the house, and try to uncover its secrets. It uses devices like journal entries, letters, and ciphers to add to the story, and young, modern characters to bring old school ghost stories and mysteries into the 21st century while still paying homage to the classics with an eerie atmosphere and unexpected twists.

The Damned by Andrew Pyper

The other books I’ve mentioned so far are about haunted locations, or haunted things. The Damned is about a haunted man named Danny, who had a near-death experience as a teenager. The fire that he survived claimed the life of his twin sister, and she has been haunting him ever since. When she was alive, she tortured and manipulated everyone around her. Death hasn’t changed that, and she does everything she can to punish Danny for being alive. I honestly think this is something fans of The Shining/Doctor Sleep would enjoy. It’s a great mix of horror and mystery, because learning about the secrets in Danny and his sister’s past reveals truths about what happened to her and how Danny might be able to free himself. Pyper writes very relatable and interesting characters, and is good at keeping a steady, but intense pace.


Harrow County by Cullen Bunn 

If a horror story and a fairy tale had a baby out in the rural South, they’d probably read Harrow County to it at bedtime. The woods around a small rural town crawl with ghosts and monsters, and the main character is going to learn how she’s connected to them, and to a witch that the town burned before she was born. It’s perfectly creepy and authentic, and the little bit of mystery keeps you flying from panel to panel to find out more.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

When I was a kid, a lot of the horror I read was in the form of short stories collected together. Through the Woods is a strong reminder of those kinds of books, in that it’s five different stories-within-a-story that are all about the deep dark dangerous woods. If you love ghost stories and want something as spooky and chilling as the ones you used to read when you were young, this is a must-read.

Locke & Key by Joe Hill

While I already gave Joe Hill a nod for his prose in the prior section, it would be outrageous to talk about great, scary, mystery-laden graphic novels without talking about Locke & Key. In the series, a father is violently killed, and in the aftermath of this tragedy his wife and three children move into Keyhouse, the father’s old family home. But Keyhouse has secrets, magical doors, and a dark entity inhabiting the well, which all play into the fate of the Locke family. It’s a story about grief, how the mysteries of the past come back to hurt us, and the importance of family. The art is unique and intricate, you can truly get lost in some of the larger spreads. But it’s also a very dark and sometimes violent story, so it is a true mix of horror with fantasy.

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