Thursday, 13 October 2016

Re-visit Your Childhood Scares this Halloween

Halloween is the perfect season to re-visit those old favourites that had you reading by torchlight under the duvet and then having to leg it from your bed to the bathroom and back.

Suze has only just moved to California and she already has to put her ghost hunting skills to the test after a vicious spirit starts making life at her new school miserable. Oh, and she’s also totally head over heels with Jesse. A ghost.

I never actually finished this series, but I have seriously fond memories of devouring the first few books. It’s so much fun!

I'm a complete wuss so the ‘Goosebumps’ titles I read were very carefully picked and I never binge read them, but when I did pick one up I'd be reading all night. Quick, easy, fun and so many people’s introduction to a love of reading, RL Stine is a total legend.

Ah, Darren Shan. I haven’t actually read this series yet – it’s on my never-ending TBR! – but most people I've spoken to that have devour all 12 books in one go and re-read them until they’re falling apart - the perfect mix of a racing plot, gore and spook. 

I have read Darren Shan’s ‘Zom-B’ series though and that’s a perfect Halloween read. In fact, I reckon everything with Darran Shan’s touch was made for this time of year.

My love friend Chelley has been running a Point Horror book club in an effort to re-read childhood favourites from the collection and introduce those who missed it. She leads wonderful reviews and discussions on a different book each month so it’s the perfect time to jump in and join for October.

What childhood scares do you love to revisit around Halloween?


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

#2016ClassicsChallenge: The Haunting of Hill House

Originally published in 1959 by Viking

My edition: The Penguin Modern Classics paperback.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
After I read and fell in love with ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ last Halloween, I quickly started investigating Shirley Jackson’s other works and this was the one I saw mentioned most.

WHY I Chose to Read It
Shirley Jackson. A haunted house. Halloween. It had to happen.

WHAT Makes It a Classic
Shirley Jackson is a master. Of the short story, of capturing the claustrophobia of small-town America and of completely chilling your blood.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I fell in love with Shirley Jackson when I devoured ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ last Halloween, but I've since read her short story collection featuring ‘The Lottery’. ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ is the first novel of hers I've read since then and I’ll admit that I was nervous as I'd heard ‘Castle’ was the best.

I had no need to worry.

‘The Haunting of Hill House’ starts slowly. Eleanor is fighting with her sister as she plans to drive cross-country and stay at Hill House for the summer after being invited by a professor investigating paranormal activity. She’s led a cloistered life, has no friends and no family other than her sister and brother-in-law after spending the last 12 years caring for an ailing mother and she's eager for adventure.

Eleanor is the first to arrive, but she’s soon joined by flighty Theodora, the Doctor and Luke, the heir to Hill House. The novel picks up speed as Dr Montague explains the 80 year history of the house and its inhabitants. The house quickly starts to live up to its reputation as the four visitors begin to explore.

I’m not going to lie, I was thoroughly creeped out by about 50 pages in. I quickly realised that I couldn’t read it at night after I found myself all-out sprinting from my bed to the bathroom and back again… I’m 24, for goodness sake.

The horror is clever and subtle and ‘Hill House’ is still the scariest thing I've ever read. There are no melodramatic deaths, scenes of gross-out gore or ghosts jumping out of wardrobes. The horror is in the suspense, in the imagination and in the fear of the characters and the reader, and it’s so effective. I could have devoured this book in only a few sittings but it creeped me out so thoroughly that I ended up taking a week to read it in small doses.

I don’t want to say anything more about the plot as it’s definitely best discovered yourself. Just read it. Curl up in a duvet with a hot chocolate (and all the lights on) and freak yourself out this Halloween. You won’t regret it.

WILL It Stay a Classic
Oh, I really, really hope so. And I think so, too. Jackson is a staple in horror and psychological thrillers and ‘Hill House’ is often cited as one of the finest examples of the haunted house story.

WHO I’d Recommend it To
- People who want a genuine scare this Halloween.
- Fans of psychological thrillers.
- Everyone who is yet to discover the mastery of Shirley Jackson.


Thursday, 6 October 2016

Halloween for Wusses

I am a total wuss, but I love Halloween. I love the tacky, over-the-top decorations; the ridiculous costumes; the genuinely amazing costumes; and the crisp, cold, creep in the air. But I hate being jumpy. Gore, grossness, outright horror is fine with me, but the psychological stuff that creeps into your nightmares? No thanks.

Just in case you’re like me, here are some amazing Halloween TV shows, films and books to read that won’t make you pee your pants. Basically, Halloween for wusses.


‘Hocus Pocus’
Who doesn’t love ‘Hocus Pocus’? When a brother and sister accidentally bring three ancient Salem witches back to life, they terrorise their small town. It’s up to Max, Dani and Allison to put them back where they belong. With the help of an immortal cat, of course.

It’s fun, delightfully 90s, nostalgic and so, so perfect for the Halloween Wuss.

‘The Addams Family’
This is another cult classic that everybody loves! Even though I'd seen it many times as a kid, last year was the first time I'd watched ‘The Addams Family’ in over 10 years and I'd forgotten how good it is. When Uncle Fester returns after being lost in the Bermuda Triangle for 25 years, the Addams’ plan the celebration to end all celebrations.

Morticia and Gomez are total couple goals and Wednesday is just 100% brilliant. LOVE.

‘Practical Magic’
This was a favourite film of my mum’s and one we ended up watching whenever it was on TV and so I fell in love with it too. Two sisters are cursed to have their lovers die well before their time so when two new men arrive on the scene, they take to the spells of their aunt to see if they can change the course of the curse.

This is so good. It’s very different to the previous two films, but the kickass cast are on point.

TV Shows

I fell in love with this quirky zombie show earlier in the year after Stacey from Pretty Books told me how good it was. She was so right. When Liv, a doctor, is turned into a zombie on a boat party, she transfers to the county morgue to get her fill of brains and still try to live a normal life. But the brains she eats give her flashes of the life and death of the victim which enables her to start solving murders.

I know this sounds weird, but ‘iZombie’ is really funny. It’s quick and sharp and the cast are all brilliant. I particularly love Liv’s boss Ravi – he’s adorable.

‘Scream Queens’
I have to admit to being woefully behind on this show, but I've loved what I've seen so far. It’s part comedy, part slasher, part murder mystery. When the anti-sorority Dean declares that everyone must be able to join sororities, all hell breaks loose and a killer dressed as the Devil begins to rampage across the school.

It's clever, funny and completely ridiculous. So much fun.

‘Stranger Things’
I'm pretty sure the whole of the Western world has already seen this, but if not: In small-town American in the 80s, a boy goes missing as a girl with physic abilities appears. It’s up to the boy’s friends and the new girl to track him down before time runs out.

A killer soundtrack, perfect 80s nostalgia, serious friendship goals and an epic story, what’s not to love about ‘Stranger Things’?


‘The Accident Season’ by Moira Fowley-Doyle
Every October Cara’s family become inexplicably accident-prone, getting worse throughout the month and culminating on Halloween – the most dangerous day of the year. They must lock away everything even slightly dangerous and gear themselves up for whatever may befall them this year.

This is a gorgeous, lyrical, dreamy book and a perfect example of really unsettling magical realism. It’s the perfect novel to devour during the gloomy Halloween season.

‘Dead Romantic’ by CJ Skuse
Camille is desperate to find the perfect boy – body of an athlete and the brain of a poet, ideally – but she knows it’ll never happen. Then her, slightly strange, friend Zoe suggests an alternative, why don’t they make one themselves?

Think high-school ‘Frankenstein’ with CJ’s trademark black humour and serious wit and you’ve got a winner. This is perfect Halloween reading.

‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ by Shirley Jackson
I discovered Shirley Jackson when I read this novel last Halloween and fell head over heels in love. When Constance Blackwood is acquitted of murdering the family, her sister Merricat expects to go back to normal, but their town refuses to forget the accusations. Then Cousin Charles arrives and Merricat must do everything in her power to protect those left close to her.

This book is creepy, haunting, whimsical and just plain extraordinary. If you haven’t read it yet, you really, really need to. And then tell me so we can gush about it!

Tell me your Halloween for wusses suggestions!


Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Halloweeds, Veronica Cossanteli

Pages: 250
Publisher: Chicken House
Release Date: 6th October 2016
Edition: UK paperback, for review

Other Titles by this Author: The Extincts

Dan promised he’d look after his siblings, but he hadn’t banked on his parents dying on a jungle research trip. The children decamp to crumbling Daundelyon Hall. Horrible Aunt Grusilla reigns supreme, tending her mysterious graveyard garden.

But why are Aunt Grusilla and her servants each missing a finger? What are the hungry ‘cabbages’ in the greenhouse? As Dan struggles to solve the mystery he encounters one final question: what’s the price of everlasting life?

I loved Veronica Cossanteli’s debut a few years back so I was really happy when I was offered a copy of ‘The Halloweeds. It completely lived up to its predecessor.

Just like in ‘The Extincts’, ‘The Halloweeds’ is filled to the brim with gruesome humour and some really disgusting food. Seriously, some of them made me want to be sick a little… Add in the setting of Daundelyn Hall, the horrifying Aunt Grusilla and her creepy servant Pokis and you’ve got a recipe for spookiness and adventure. I don’t want to spoil anything, but reading this will definitely make you suspicious of gardeners…

My favourite thing about this book is definitely the relationship between Dan, his sister Martha and the baby Grub. I loved the way they stuck together and backed each other up in rather scary circumstances. Your siblings may be super annoying and a bit gross sometimes, but you’ll never leave them behind. Having a hoard of siblings myself, I loved it.

A fun, gruesome adventure that’s perfect for young Halloween lovers.

Thanks to Chicken House for the review copy.


Tuesday, 4 October 2016

#2016ClassicsChallenge: Anna Karenina

Originally serialised between 1875-77 in ‘The Russian Messenger’

My edition: I switched between the hefty Penguin Clothbound Classics hardback and the Maggie Gyllenhaal audiobook

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I don’t remember not knowing about ‘Anna Karenina’, but I didn’t really know what it was actually about until I watched several booktubers talk about the novel earlier in the year.

WHY I Chose to Read It
I'd been considering it since I’d seen booktubers I respect talking about how much they loved it and I was eager to watch the 2012 adaptation, but after hearing not-great things about it decided I wanted to read it first. Then Audible released an audiobook read by Maggie Gyllenhaal and the sample sounded wonderful so I took the plunge.

WHAT Makes It a Classic
The scope, the character growth and development, the intensity of the relationships, the exploration and criticism of Russian society – everything.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I went into ‘Anna Karenina’ with hesitancy and no real expectations of whether or not I'd finish it, let alone enjoy it, but I completely loved it.

Anna is a beautiful young woman married to a cold, unfeeling government official. When she travels to Moscow to visit her sister-in-law to convince her to forgive her husband’s affairs she meets Count Vronsky and the pair begin an affair that will change the rest of their lives.

As expected, I was a little confused by the long, complicated Russian names, but listening to the audiobook really helped with that and it didn’t take me long to get a handle on who’s who. I found it fascinating that the name someone was called was based on their position and the intimacy level of your relationship with them. Lots of the central male characters were referred to by three different incarnations of their name and the women took on a female version of their husband’s surname. For example, Anna’s brother was called Stepan Arkadievich (by everyone else), Stiva (by his family) and Oblonsky (his surname, by his friends) and his wife Dolly’s surname was Oblonskya. So interesting!

Once familiar with who everyone was and how they're connected, I found it effortless to become entrenched in the drama of these characters. It’s a vast cast but everyone has so much depth; agency, fears, desires, a distinctive voice and opinions – it’s all there. The journey these characters go on during the novel is phenomenal and it was really interesting to see how my opinion of them changed as we went through, and how they changed too. Anna went from charmingly impulsive to bitter, selfish and manipulative; Levin from boring and uppity to philosophical and fiercely romantic (though still uppity); and Anna’s husband Karenin went from cold, hard and unfeeling to someone I felt deeply sorry for. Tolstoy was a master at character and I could wax lyrical about them all for hours, but I really don’t want to spoil you.

‘Anna Karenina’ explored themes of divorce, mental health, addiction and much more in ways I'd never encountered in classics before. There was no judgement from Tolstoy, no sense of right or wrong on a personal level, but merely as a criticism of Russian high society. Once Anna’s affair with Vronsky is openly known, the way she is received changes so dramatically I was genuinely shocked. She’s a princess by birth, but suddenly she was shunned by family, friends and acquaintances. People couldn’t even call on her without fear of being rejected from high society in response and it slowly started to destroy Anna, and by extension Vronsky.

I’m going to talk about the ending here, so if you don’t know what happens at the end of ‘Anna Karenina’, here’s a giant SPOILER WARNING for you. I'd known that this novel is a tragic one and Anna’s downfall is reasonably obvious from early on in the story, but I honestly didn’t expect her to commit suicide. The pressures from society and the consequences of being a fallen women destroyed all the happiness she’d gained by loving Vronsky. She was denied her firstborn and lost the things that she had loved in her old life – and none of it was attainable again without giving up what happiness she had gained and renouncing her decisions completely. I’d expected her to die as a complication from childbirth, but chucking herself under a train? Way unexpected. Though in retrospect, it was totally foreshadowed in the very beginning of the novel…

My only complaint about the whole story is how Anna’s death was portrayed. It felt a little brushed over and I didn’t think that anything after that was really necessary. Anna’s suicide would have been an incredibly powerful way for ‘Anna Karenina’ to end and instead it went out with a little bit of a whimper as we moved to check in with the other characters instead. If anything, I wanted to know about Vronsky and how he reacted but all we got was a snippet of second hand information from his mother. SPOILER OVER.

Even with the weaker ending, ‘Anna Karenina’ has kickstarted a fascination with Russian literature and I already have a wishlist as long as my arm of novels that I'd love to try. I've also bought myself a copy of Tolstoy’s other behemoth masterpiece ‘War and Peace’ which I'm planning to read in the New Year. I am so excited.

I loved ‘Anna Karenina’ and even though it's over 800 pages long and I only finished it a few weeks ago, I want to read it all over again. I gave the film a watch to try and soothe the want, but it was nothing like the book and only made me want to re-read it even more.

WILL It Stay a Classic
Completely. ‘Anna Karenina’ is considered one of the finest works of literature ever written, and Tolstoy one of the greatest writers of all time. I can’t see that changing any time soon!

WHO I’d Recommend it To
- Fans of stories of epic, doomed love and complicated characters.
- Those taking their first foray into Russian classics. Despite its length, this is a great place to start.
- Everyone.