Horror

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Published November 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands all about?:

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands follows a group of friends who gather to hear spooky tales. The tale for this evening involves a man whom as the title may suggest does not under any circumstance shake hands… but why?

What did I think?:

You must all be bored of me professing my love for Stephen King by now surely? If you haven’t been here before or haven’t heard me gushing on about him before I’ll just say he is without a doubt my all time favourite author. However, I have come to realise over all the years that I’ve read him that at times, I do need to take those rose-tinted glasses off. I don’t love absolutely everything he has ever written and sometimes, I haven’t been as enamoured with one of his short stories as I would have liked but damn, Skeleton Crew has to be one of his finest collections so far.

It opens to a group of friends who are meeting to tell each other frightening stories. One of the men, George Gregson is particularly adept at holding his friends in utter rapture with his tales and that evening, he begins to tell a true story of a man that he professes to have been murdered in the exact same room that they find themselves in just over sixty years prior to this evening. This story involves George and a group of his friends who want to play a hand or two of cards but are lacking another man to make up the numbers. Enter Henry Brower, a friendly enough stranger to the group but with a strange tendency to shy away from anyone shaking his hand or in fact, coming near to touching him at all. We soon find out why exactly Henry fears the touch of anyone else when after a bit of drink, one of George’s friends takes his hand mistakenly to congratulate him on winning a hand. Henry’s reaction is extreme to say the least but it is only when George follows him outside when he flees that he begins to understand Henry’s reasons for keeping away from human touch.

Of course I’m not going to give anything away except to say I really didn’t realise where this story was going, even though it was hinted at merely a few pages in. The reason for Henry Brower’s complete terror of touch comes from an event in his past that continues to haunt his future and gives him little rest, making him almost an outcast from society and completely miserable to boot. To be honest, when the group were playing cards, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed. It was dull, I didn’t find it interesting and I couldn’t tell where Stephen King was taking the story. If like me, you decide to read this and feel the same, I beg you to please, please read on because as soon as Henry receives that well intentioned touch of a hand, the story explodes and becomes something entirely more horrific and wonderfully compelling. Stephen King often gets a bit of a reputation as a horror writer because of a few novels he has written (not necessarily because of the vast majority of his work) but when he chooses to write something a bit frightening, think there’s very few people in the world that can do it better.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Unplugged by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

 

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Best New Horror by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts

Published November 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Best New Horror all about?:

Best New Horror follows the editor of a horror magazine as he tries to track down the author of a short story he has recently read and loved so that he can publish it in the next edition of his magazine.

What did I think?:

I’m familiar with Joe Hill for three reasons, the first two being the most important – his wonderful novels Heart-Shaped Box and Horns. Thirdly, only three words are necessary – Stephen King’s Son. If you’re a die-hard King fan like I am, surely you’re going to be curious about his son’s writing? I was but put off reading him for so long as I specifically didn’t want to compare him directly to his old man and wanted to enjoy him as a brilliant author in his own right. What better way to enjoy some more Joe Hill than to pop his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts into my Short Stories Challenge when a slot opened up?

So, after the five star rating that I’ve given his previous two novels, I have to admit my expectations were sky high. Overall, I wasn’t disappointed by the first story, Best New Horror although it didn’t initially clamour for my attention like his novels have done. Our main protagonist, Eddie Carroll receives a letter in the post one day from a friend with a short story that he simply has to read, the suggestion being that he could publish it in the next issue of his magazine, Best New Horror. Eddie sits down to read the short story by Peter Kilrue, entitled “Buttonboy,” and although the subject matter is distressing, disturbing and beyond disgusting he can’t help but be entranced by what the author has to say. He is determined to publish the story but wants to contact the author first so sets off on a journey to track him down, becoming embroiled in a horrific situation that encompasses what “Best New Horror,” might actually mean.

This story felt quite different to other pieces of short fiction I’ve enjoyed in the past. For one thing, it’s a story within a story which felt quite unique and exciting. The author actually transcribes the “Buttonboy” story for us as Eddie reads it so we can find out as a reader exactly what makes it such a traumatic but interesting reading experience. It’s every bit as awful as Eddie’s friend has suggested it is, I found the use of buttons especially gruesome and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, but it is how Joe Hill manages the story afterwards that is the most fascinating part. En route to find and connect with Peter, Eddie ends up in a horror story of his very own and it almost feels like one of those classic horror films where your inner self is screaming to the person on screen: “Don’t go in there! Don’t do that! Get away!” and I loved the eerie sentiment that the author brought to the situation and the characters. It’s not a story for everyone, the “Buttonboy” story might offend a few people if you’re sensitive to the horror genre but I think it was quite a fun look at horror turned on its head and what we classically find frightening in the genre.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Moons Of Jupiter by Alice Munro from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

Published October 3, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Shadow Out Of Time all about?:

The Shadow Out Of Time follows our male protagonist as he struggles with what happened to his mind and body during a five year period of amnesia and hallucinations.

What did I think?:

I always approach the next H.P. Lovecraft story in my Short Stories Challenge with slight trepidation. It’s no secret that I haven’t been a big fan of some of the tales in this collection whilst others I’ve really enjoyed. The Shadow Out Of Time sits quite comfortably somewhere in the middle in that respect. One thing I might never understand though is the lengths H.P. Lovecraft goes to when telling a story. By lengths, I mean literally the sheer length of the story which could almost be an entire novel by itself and is almost epic in its content. Sometimes I feel as if he could have got a much more effective narrative by just trimming things down slightly and then I might not have felt as bored, wondering when exactly it was going to end.

The Shadow Out Of Time (as with many of his short stories) follows a male protagonist as he describes a horrendous and often fantastical event that he has been a part of and that has affected his life enormously. Our narrator for the journey is Professor Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee and he is describing a terrifying period of his recent history in the early 1900’s that he is intending to pass on to his son and other academics, hoping that they might make some sense of it. The period in question is when he was teaching one day and, all of a sudden was subjected to the most horrific headache and hallucinations that led to him losing consciousness for about sixteen hours. When he awakens, he is a completely different person, describing it as a “second personality,” that leads him to undertake long journeys for unknown reasons and to seek out strange and mysterious ancient texts where he scribbles weird hieroglyphics within the pages. He cannot look at himself in mirrors developing an odd loathing of his form and eventually, his wife divorces him taking two of their three children into her custody, adamant that he is a different man. This second person remains with Nathaniel for a period of five years until his true personality appears to return. However, he has almost complete amnesia about that time of his life although he is beginning to have erratic dreams and small flashes of memory that are terrifying him to his core.

Eventually (I say eventually as this story is absurdly and overly long) we find out the reason for Nathaniel’s amnesia and strange dreams and, as expected from a story by H.P. Lovecraft, it’s nothing short of bizarrely imaginative. There are supremely intelligent alien, cone-shaped creatures that are ten feet tall and ten feet across, journeys through billions of years of time and space and other, frightening species that although it’s difficult to picture them, appear very sinister indeed. I’ve got to give a nod to the author for the amazing detail that he puts into his stories, The Shadow Out Of Time is another prime example of a narrative that has been meticulously planned but at times I did feel like it was overly descriptive and, as I mentioned before, way too long to hold my interest. I may have given this a lower star rating purely because my attention wandered quite a while before the end if it were not for the ending. It was almost worth the long slog to the finish line just to read that final paragraph.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: A Place For Violence by Kevin Wignall from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

 

Horns – Joe Hill

Published September 28, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with a thunderous hangover, a raging headache . . . and a pair of horns growing from his temples.

At first Ig thought the horns were a hallucination, the product of a mind damaged by rage and grief. He had spent the last year in a lonely, private purgatory, following the death of his beloved, Merrin Williams, who was raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances. A mental breakdown would have been the most natural thing in the world. But there was nothing natural about the horns, which were all too real.

Once the righteous Ig had enjoyed the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician and younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, he had security, wealth, and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more—he had Merrin and a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

But Merrin’s death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. In the court of public opinion in Gideon, New Hampshire, Ig is and always will be guilty because his rich and connected parents pulled strings to make the investigation go away. Nothing Ig can do, nothing he can say, matters. Everyone, it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone, that is, but the devil inside.

What did I think?:

Regular visitors to my blog might remember that I have a teeny tiny Stephen King obsession. Seriously, I’m in love with (almost) every word he has ever written. However, I was absolutely determine to judge Joe Hill’s books on their own merits and not to compare him to his father and when I read his debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box, I was delighted to find another writer of such skill and panache where I would instantly pre-order and devour everything they have published and are due to publish. Next up on the small-ish Joe Hill back-list was his second novel, Horns which was also made into a film starring Daniel Radcliffe. Would it be as good as Heart-Shaped Box? The expectations were sky high and I’m happy to say, completely fulfilled. Horns is a disturbing, fantastical and eerily supernatural read that enthralled me from the beginning and was structured so beautifully that I was compelled to read it at the speed of light whilst savouring the deliciousness of Joe Hill’s prose.

Our protagonist for the novel is a young man called Ignatius Perrish (Ig for short) who hasn’t had an easy life. He was head over heels in love with his girlfriend, Merrin Williams until she was raped and brutally murdered. Worse thing is, everyone in town including some of his family, think Ig carried out the crime and it was only because of a lack of evidence that the case was thrown out of court and he didn’t go to trial. Ig has been beating himself up about Merrin’s death since it happened and is drinking heavily. One day he wakes up with the world’s worst hangover and two extra unexpected gifts on the top of his head – horns, that no-one else can see and that he soon discovers gives him the supernatural powers to find out what people are thinking and encourage them to act on their deepest and darkest desires. The novel follows Ig as he uses the horns to his own advantage, finding out some heart-breaking, disgusting and life-altering truths in the process. We also get a look back into the heady days of his youth when he was in love with Merrin, his relationship with his friends and finally, answers to what really happened to Merrin all those years ago.

I have to admit, when I read the premise for this novel I was a little unsure. Interested – definitely but I wasn’t sure if a story about “magic horns,” could grab my attention as much as it ended up doing. I needn’t have worried, within just a few pages Joe Hill, storyteller extraordinaire, had completely captivated me and I found myself both shaking my head at Ig and rooting for him in equal measure as certain secrets begin to be revealed and he begins to find some sort of closure after years of suffering and unhappiness. He makes some dodgy decisions, that’s for sure but I loved how flawed yet strangely vulnerable he was as an individual and this made him all the more easier to love. There are some real shocking moments in this novel as well, especially surrounding Ig’s family and friends but I must leave you to discover all the juicy and disquieting details for yourself! Once more, Joe Hill has written a novel that was so immersive and utterly brilliant in its denouement that I’m struggling to see how he could ever write a bad novel! I’m looking forward to dipping into his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts soon on my Short Stories Challenge and I also have big plans for his next novel, NOS4R2 coming soon on bibliobeth.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Man In The Ditch by Lisa Tuttle from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

Published September 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Man In The Ditch all about?:

The Man In The Ditch tells the story of a shaky relationship between a husband and wife and how their relationship becomes even more fragile when the wife sees what she thinks is a body in a ditch.

What did I think?:

I went into this short story with little or no expectations at all. I hadn’t heard of the author, Lisa Tuttle before now although after a little research, I understand she is quite a prolific science fiction, fantasy and horror writer with more than a dozen novels, seven short story collections, some non-fiction and a reference book on feminism to her name. Well, after the unsettling short story that I have just read from her, I’ll certainly be checking out more of her work. The Man In The Ditch was slow to start but gradually built up the tension in such an accomplished way until the hideous climax of the tale which still continues to haunt me hours after reading it.

The Man In The Ditch is primarily the story of a relationship – between Linzi and her husband Jay /J.D. They are in the middle of moving out into the countryside, building their own property and trying to have a baby together. On the first drive to their new house, Linzi spots what she thinks is a corpse in a ditch near to their property. Her husband doesn’t seem to be concerned at all and dismisses her fears as being “all in her head.” However, when they eventually move into the house, Linzi is unable to settle. She becomes convinced that she is being watched with malicious intent by someone (or something) and is terrified to be left on her own. Linzi and J.D. already have a tenuous relationship due to an incident which happened in the past that J.D. still appears to hold over his wife’s head and we just know as a reader from the atmospheric scenes that Lisa Tuttle creates that things could end very badly for this damaged couple.

When I first started this story, I definitely wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did and this is, in part, because of the way the author structures the narrative, revealing certain aspects of the couples lives ever so slowly and carefully and then making us feel like we’ve been hit with a rather blunt object as she presents the “final reveal,” in a matter of just a few paragraphs at the end. I finished this short story feeling quite breathless, a little bit scared and disturbed but one hundred percent thrilled and satisfied by the direction that she had chosen to take it. Not only was this a supreme example of great horror writing, I also felt like it was a terrific character study and by the end, I felt like I knew Linzi, J.D. and the secrets of their relationship but was incredibly hungry to know and understand more about them. In this way, it could almost have worked as a novel as they were such fascinating characters and I also thought Linzi’s mother had a hell of a lot more to say that I would have been intrigued to hear. Fantastic writing style and THAT ending means this will be an author I’ll be coming back to again in the near future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: That Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

Banned Books 2017 – SEPTEMBER READ – Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz

Published September 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Creak…
Crash…
BOO!

Shivering skeletons, ghostly pirates, chattering corpses, and haunted graveyards…all to chill your bones! Share these seven spine-tingling stories in a dark, dark room.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the ninth banned book of 2017! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. If you would like to read along with us, here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

OCTOBER – ttyl – Lauren Myracle

NOVEMBER – The Color Of Earth – Kim Dong Hwa

DECEMBER – The Agony Of Alice – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

But back to this month….

In A Dark, Dark Room And Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz (illustrated by Dirk Zimmer)

First published: 1984

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2006 (source)

Reasons: insensitivity, occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, violence.

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: We haven’t had an older release on our Banned Books challenge for a little while and I was intrigued to see how a children’s book published in the 1980’s could have had so much against it. Even though it was published over thirty years ago, I don’t believe attitudes have changed that much in the last three decades or so and I don’t really agree for the book being challenged. I hadn’t actually realised that I read this book as a younger reader (possibly when I was about seven or even younger?) and I was surprised by how vividly I remembered the stories. I did find it a little frightening, I have to admit but never in a way that gave me nightmares or seriously troubled me afterwards. I was one of those readers that went out looking for scary stories to read and found them thrilling so perhaps caution should be advised with more sensitive youngsters? However, I think if children want to read a scary story they are going to seek them out, like myself.

CHRISSI: This book is older than me! I was totally intrigued by this book. I remember Beth texted me a while ago insistent that we had read it when we were younger. I wasn’t totally convinced, but then when I read it I totally recalled it! So, did it damage me? Clearly not, if I don’t remember the story! They are pretty creepy, but so readable. Not all children will enjoy this because it is scary, but others will absolutely lap it up!

How about now?

BETH: I think nowadays you probably see a lot scarier stuff on television before the watershed (for example, some episodes of Doctor Who I find much scarier than this!). I don’t think it is insensitive or promotes the occult or Satanism in the slightest, it’s just some good old fashioned scary stories that are exciting to read and I just loved the illustrations which bring something extra to Alvin Schwartz’s words. There’s a lot of death mentioned – that’s a given really, death is scary right? However, some of the stories could be looked on as humorous, if told in the right way by a responsible adult, letting children know it’s just a story and there’s nothing to be frightened of.

CHRISSI: I had to laugh at the occult and Satanism reasons behind the banning of this book. Yes, I can get how some people might think that, but really there’s much more out there that promotes occult and Satanism. This simply is a children’s scary story. Much like Goosebumps and Point Horror for slightly older readers. All books should be thought about especially for young children. I’d recommend that you don’t give a sensitive child this book. Surely you’d know if your child could handle it? It should be down to personal preference and adult discretion! 

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: This book was super nostalgic for me and so quick and easy to read I finished it in about ten minutes. There are a couple of stories that when I read them I was instantly transported back to how I felt as a child reading them, particularly the first one about the men with the very long teeth and the girl who wears a green ribbon around her neck (the reason why I remember being horrified but kind of delighted with as a child!). This book was probably my first introduction into scary stories and led to me reading Point Horror as a teenager and then of course, Stephen King as an adult. It’s perfect for young horror fans and the illustrations compliment the stories perfectly without being “too” scary.

CHRISSI: The one that brought back memories was the story about a girl with a green ribbon around her neck. That one still give me chills. Ha! Such a wimp…I loved the illustrations too. Creepy but not overly terrifying and I’ve always had an overactive imagination! 

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

Join us again on the last Monday of October when we will be talking about ttyl by Lauren Myracle.

Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill

Published August 20, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sooner or later the dead catch up.

When Judas Coyne heard someone was selling a ghost on the internet, there was no question. It was perfect for his collection of the macabre: the cannibal’s cookbook, the witch’s confession, the authentic snuff movie. As an ageing death-metal rock-god, buying a poltergeist almost qualifies as a business expense.

Besides, Jude thinks he knows all about ghosts. Jude has been haunted for years… by the spirits of bandmates dead and gone, the spectre of the abusive father he fled as a child, and the memory of the suicidal girl he abandoned. But this ghost, delivered to his doorstep in a black heart-shaped box, is different. It makes the house feel cold. It makes the dogs bark. And it means to chase Jude from his home and make him run for his life.

What did I think?:

Regular visitors might be aware of a teeny weeny love (obsession?) I have with Stephen King. Well, Joe Hill happens to be one of his children and I have had his debut novel on my shelves for the longest time, putting it off and then putting it off some more. Why did I do this? I have no idea when this book is just so damn GOOD! All I can think is that I had huge expectations and that’s really not fair to him as an author, his novels stand on their own as brilliant (occasionally terrifying) works of fiction. He shouldn’t be compared to his father in any way, shape or form and I’m not going to even go there. I’m just going to talk about how fantastic HE is.

Heart-Shaped Box is a dark, twisted little tale about a middle-aged rock star, Judas Coyne who has a fancy for the quirky, more unusual items out there on the web and his head is turned by someone selling a ghost in a heart-shaped box. However, purchasing it has to be one of the biggest mistakes in his life. Within the box is an old suit that contains the spirit of a very vengeful, very nasty man called Craddock McDermott that has a bone to pick with Judas. His step-daughter committed suicide after being in a relationship with Judas, a relationship that ended quite acrimoniously and obviously led her to taking her own life. Now Craddock is back from the dead, apoplectic with rage, determined to avenge his step-daughter and for Jude and anyone who stands in his way there’s going to be hell to pay.

Great premise right? With a synopsis like that, I was expecting great things and Joe Hill delivered on every single level. The plot was fast, exciting and ever so gritty and at points, the twists and turns that this narrative took and the things Craddock subjected Jude and his girlfriend Georgia to were truly hideous and terrifying in equal measure. I also loved the creation of the characters who weren’t necessarily the easiest people to like – frankly, I despised Jude at the start and found Georgia irritating and a bit of a brat… but Joe Hill completely changed my mind round and I found myself championing both of them until the bitter end. Craddock was also an amazing villain – insane, petrifying, disgusting, all these things but utterly, completely brilliant. Some reviewers are not so keen on this book as I am and praise Joe Hill’s later books – Horns, NOS4R2 and The Fireman more than this, his debut novel. Well, all I can say is if this isn’t his best, boy am I in for a treat when I read his next book! (P.S. I have already read his second novel, Horns – review coming soon and spoiler alert, it’s completely fantastic!!)

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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