Haute Macabre’s first edition of Stacked, where we will share with you what we’ve read this month and our thoughts.
A Season With The Witch by J.W. Ocker
This past summer, I visited Salem, MA for the first time, and I wish I had read this book beforehand. Famed for its events that we all know well enough, Salem has remained a mecca for the witchy and the weird, especially of the month of October. Although, the Halloween crowds – even just the thought – give me great anxiety, author J.W. Ocker reveled in the experience, taking the reader with him on his exploration of the city and its history. He visits many of the places I was abel to on my trip, but many more I was unaware of, and his enthusiasm for his discoveries is contagious. I had such nostalgia for my visit while reading this, and I’ll be bringing it along and taking notes for my next.
Ghostland by Colin Dickey
Co-editor of the Morbid Anatomy Anthology, Colin Dickey’s collection of America’s haunted places was on my must-read list from the moment I saw a preview of its wonderful Memento Mori chalkboard cover art. Dickey is able to tell the tales of each location, haunted history and all, while keeping a solid foot in the land of the skeptic. As much as I love a good ghost story, I appreciate this: it creates a more tangible reality for me as a reader, and imbues me with the physical history of the tale. Bonus points to this book for an entire chapter on a street corner of New Orleans that I walk past almost daily, and filling me in on the full backstory of a local urban legend.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
I am so eternally grateful how many of my Instagram followers mentioned this book to me when I asked for a recommendation a few months back, after re-reading The Amityville Horror and a slew of books and articles on possession. This has been my first introduction to Paul Trembly, and his other works are holding a spot on my to-read list. A Head Full of Ghosts starts as a slow burn – I admit, I was not quite grabbed at first. Focused on a small, suburban family that is falling apart at the seams, the eldest daughter begins to show signs of schizophrenia, interpreted by a newly zealous father, as a demonic possession. Told from the now adult perspective of the younger sister’s memories, the story unfolds to a deeply frightening place. I was unsure how I felt about the involvement of a reality TV setting for the tale, but each element of the story worked so well together that my apprehension was totally unwarranted. Although I am usually loathe to admit such a thing, Ido hope this is optioned out to be a film, and it can take the “real footage” genre to the level it is so very desperately not yet attainted.*
*edited to add that since drafting this review, I watched AHS: Roanoke, and was totally impressed by the reality tv execution of the series! Hopefully, AHS is back on track after a dreadful few seasons there (I’m looking at you, Coven and Freakshow).
Uprooted was my perfect Christmas vacation read this year- a witchy girl-power fantasy novel with just enough meat to be satisfying (but light enough to read on the plane). The story weaves in plenty of Eastern European folklore, which gives it a wonderful sense of fairy-tale familiarity, while clevery turning any number of fantasy tropes on their heads and sidestepping the predictable plotlines that come with the genre. While it is probably technically a ‘Young Adult’ novel, actual adults will thoroughly enjoy it as well- heroine Agnieszka is fantastic in every way, and clearly One Of Us.
Read The Girl With All The Gifts before the movie comes out. Please. It is alternately terrifying and totally heartwarming, everything you want from a zombie story and a whole lot of things you never expected in one. Hollywood will probably ruin the story, so read it now.
S. Elizabeth’s Reads
Angels of Music by Kim Newman.
Kim Newman (Anno Dracula, etc.) is an author who I’ve been meaning to read for years now, but never got around to it until Angels of Music was thrust upon me by a well-meaning friend at a holiday party last month. Newman writes a heady brew of horror, crime, fantasy noir, and this title in particular combines a measure of each of these fantastical elements–imagine if you will, a Victorian Charlie’s Angels, as masterminded by The Phantom of the Opera. Written serial-style, the book comprises five separate adventures with a revolving door of familiar faces as the titular Angels–we spend time with such noted characters as Lady Snowblood, Eliza Doolittle, and Irene Adler as the Phantom’s team of elite female agents who repeatedly save Paris from diabolical masterminds. If it sounds ridiculous, well, it is, just a little. But you’ll be having too much fun with it to care.
Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny
I am somewhat ashamed to say I have never been keen on reading non-fiction. Books are a means of escape for me, and I don’t fancy an escape to real-world problems, thank you very much. But I’m realizing more and more that our current social and political climate does not call for once-upon-a-times and fairy tales, and so I intend to fortify my knowledge and educate myself accordingly. Unspeakable Things is an excellent place to start: intensely personal and somewhat autobiographical, Penny writes unapologetically on gender and power and love and feminism in vivid, witty, com/passionate language; a cry for awareness, a challenge, and a call to arms, Unspeakable Things is a powerfully vital manifesto, and though not always a comfortable read, it should prove to be not too painful for non-fiction phobes.
The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Romance edited by Kori Michele Handwerker and Melanie Gillman
From the very beginning with its heartwarming dedication: “For all the queer kids: You are loved,” The Other Side presents queer readers with something vital: representations of themselves in comic book form. As co-editor Melanie Gillman says in the book’s introduction,
“Entire generations of queer children have grown up without getting to see themselves positively reflected in their books. Many people take for granted that they’ve always been able to casually stroll into any library or bookstore and find a wealth of fun, thoughtful, inventive books written just for them; books where the characters or mirrors for the readers; books that invite readers to imagine themselves cast as romantic heroes, adventurers, villains, magicians, warriors, scholars. But for many marginalized groups, queer people included, positive representation is something we have had to fight for.”
And along the way The Other Side entertains its readers with a wide variety of short romantic tales involving the paranormal and supernatural. I hope this wonderful volume marks the first in an ongoing series. Considering how much I enjoyed it now, I can only imagine what it would’ve meant to encounter these comics when I was in my teens.
Revival Vol. 1: You’re Among Friends, Revival Vol. 2: Live Like You Mean It, and Revival Vol. 3: A Faraway Place by Mike Norton (author) and Mark Englert (artist)
This ongoing comic book series is an usual tale of supernatural horror rural noir. I’m a sucker for dark, gritty noir, and the rural setting of Revival is refreshingly new take on the genre for me. A small town in central Wisconsin experiences a single day during which the dead come back to life. These undead townsfolk aren’t zombies, they’re simply once again among the living. This event impacts the community on social, moral, and religious levels, all of which I find fascinating. The series is centered on a wonderfully strong female character, police officer Dana Cypress, and her ongoing investigations. It also follows different community members, some revived, some not. There’s no shortage of zombie comics these days, so it takes something special to grab and hold my attention. Three volumes in and the dark, thought-provoking concept, excellent writing, intense artwork, and numerous strong female characters have me eager to read more.
Pretty Monsters, Stranger Things Happen, and Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
I feel like I’m late to the party regarding the stories of Kelly Link, which is why I ended up devouring three of her books in a row last month. I have our very own Sonya Vatomsky to thank for first directing my attention to this phenomenal short story maven. Describing Link’s style isn’t easy. As Sonya once said,
“Such tales are frequently termed “magical realism,” though to ascribe Kelly Link to one particular genre isn’t exactly fair: her stories span moods and worlds as far apart as can be while remaining at all times thrilling, unexpected, and darkly funny. I was hooked.”
And so was I. Link’s stories scratch so many different genre itches for me: ghost stories, folk tales, horror stories, gloriously unconventional fairy tales, dark near-future sci-fi, horror stories, tales of superheroes and monsters, mythology, romance, magic, and often things that defy classification. But no matter how fantastic, Link’s stories always feel incredibly human and relatable, which is another reason I love them. Oh yes, and they’re wonderfully inclusive. All of this is why I’m terribly upset that, as far as I know, I’ve now read all of her collections to date (the newest is Get in Trouble, which came out last year). Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too long for the next one.
The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by (shocker) Edith Wharton
I read The Lady Maid’s Bell, perhaps the most famous of the stories, during a lunch break — it’s one of those tales that’s old enough and short enough that people type it up and put it on the Internet, and there’s something extra-unsettling about ghost stories hosted on webpages that look like they were built in 1996. Maybe it helps with suspension of disbelief, somehow. I read The Yellow Wallpaper in the same manner but I’m reminded also of Ted The Caver and the golden age of creepypasta. Books, even nonfiction books, are clearly products. A story on a graphic-less website… well… it could be someone’s personal diary, couldn’t it? A strange, true account typed up and submitted to the void? Edith Wharton’s work is a bit of a slow burn; you’re unlikely to stay up all night reading anxiously and chewing your fingernails, but it’s an absolutely perfect companion to a rainy day and bottomless Earl Grey tea.
Slade House: A Novel by David Mitchell
I read several David Mitchell books years ago (Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten) and found them fairly unbearable so when Lucia Peters of The Ghost In My Machine included Slade House in a Halloween horror round-up I was skeptical. Lucia is a writer I’ve followed for several years, though, and her taste is generally impeccable so I went and bought it anyway and, well, I actually ended up really loving it. The book features a spooky house, and soul-sucking twins, and time-travel, and cults. There’s definitely a gimmick — every Mitchell book I’ve read hinges on some gimmick that connects a bunch of disparate narratives — but it’s a solid one.
What have you read recently and what do you have in your to-read stacks?