Ghost Stories

Property of a Lady – Sarah Rayne

Posted in Ghost Stories on March 31st, 2011 by admin – 5 Comments

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed many of Sarah Rayne’s previous books, psychological thrillers with a touch of the supernatural and  a smidgen of gothic which always hits the spot with me!  Property of A Lady appears to be the first in new series of  “ghost books” featuring Nell West and Michael Flint.  The second in the series, The Sin Eater, is due for release in 2012.

Michael Flint, an Oxford Don, is asked to keep an eye on renovations of an old Shropshire house inherited by his American friends.  He soon realises that Charect House is not quite the rural idyll his friends are expecting;  from the moment he crosses the threshold, the aura of evil is palpable and Rayne cranks up the tension beautifully, drawing in the reader.  Nell West, a local antique dealer, soon finds herself joining forces with Michael to discover the truth about Charect House.  Why are Nell’s daughter and Michael’s American god-daughter having the same nightmares about the Dead Man’s Knock and a man with pits for eyes?  What happened to the previous occupants of the house?  What happened to the psychic investigator who visited the house?  All these questions are answered in the end but not before the author has stepped up the fear factor, leaving you (well, me in this case..) too scared to turn off the bedside lamp.

Once again Sarah Rayne has succeeded in weaving a complex, compelling story with lots of twists and turns.  She’s also excellent at creating atmospheric locations and Charect House is a truly eerie setting.  It’s a very readable, riveting book which I read in one sitting, into the wee small hours, as I just had to find out what happened next.  I’m looking forward to the next book in the series which deals with the ancient practice of sin-eating, a topic which intrigues me, and there may be a rural Irish setting too – roll on publication date in 2012!

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The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley

Posted in Children's Books, Ghost Stories on March 2nd, 2011 by admin – 6 Comments

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (4 Oct 2010)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1408800136
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408800133
  • The Dead of Winter is a children’s book, aimed at 10-15 year olds, which can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.   It”s more of a novella than a novel although I refuse to get into literary debate about the differences between short stories, novelettes (?) and novellas – basically it is a story which one could easily read in one sitting.

    Back to the story…it is Victorian London and young Michael Vyner, recently orphaned, is sent to spend the Christmas holidays with his guardian Sir Stephen who lives in an isolated, desolate country house.  En route to Hawton Mere, Michael sees the ghostly figure of a woman as they grow closer to their destination but no one else shares his horrific vision.  What ensues is a gothic ghost story which has echoes of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, M R James, The Turn of the Screw and other eerie stories which crank up the tension subtley but surely.

    The result is a supremely spooky story which will keep the reader enthralled right up to the closing pages – highly recommended for all young readers and indeed those young at heart who appreciate their chills being served  in a subtle, sophisticated way rather than having blood and gore thrown on their plate…

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    Dark Matter – Michelle Paver

    Posted in Ghost Stories, Historical Fiction on January 6th, 2011 by admin – 2 Comments

    If you enjoy the ghost stories of MR James, Poe or Susan Hill you will be delighted with all Dark Matter has to offer you.  Even before you open the book, you sense the oppression of the constant Arctic night with a front cover lightened only by bleached whalebones on the shore, some tidal froth and the slightest glimmer of a crescent moon.

    It is 1937 and our narrator, Jack Miller, yearns to rise from his lower middle class background and jumps at the chance of being a wireless operator on an Arctic expedition alongside a group of upper class researchers.  Via his journal we are privy to his intimate account of the expedition to Gruhuken including all the presentiments of danger fuelled by the gruff Captain Ericksson who clearly feels ill at ease on the island.  Unfortunately, thanks to British stiff upper lipness, the team power on but they slowly drop off, one by one until only Jack remains.

    The Arctic landscape plays an important role in the building up of tension as the gradual change from constant daylight to constant darkness takes place.  Something is lurking out there on the ice, something becoming more and more physical with each darkening day.

    Some people think of death as a door into a better place. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face …What if it’s not like that?  What if there is no enlightenment and it’s all just dark?  What if the dead know no more than we?

    Dark Matter is an excellent debut ghost story and Michelle Paver’s meticulous research shows in the detailed descriptions of landscape, seascape, dog handling, food and drink, man’s struggle to live in such inhospitable surroundings.  Perhaps man should just leave well alone?  The sign of a good ghost story for me is if it chills me and leaves a lingering impression of unease – well Dark Matter certainly chilled me both literally and figuratively and left me wondering what it is within the human psyche which makes us want to explore places (both physical and mental)  when every human instinct tells us to retreat.

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    The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby

    Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Ghost Stories on November 6th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

    This, Ilie Ruby’s debut novel, contains so much of what I love in a  novel, great storytelling, ghosts, a beautiful setting and memorable characters.  It’s a story about homecoming, principally that of Grant Shongo and Echo O’Connell, once teen lovers, who return to Canandaigua, a place steeped in the history of the Seneca Indians.  The disappearance of a young boy many years before is still impacting on the community and those still living must address the past and unearth previously buried secrets in order to move on with their lives.

    It is easy to see that Ilie Ruby is also a painter, given the vivid descriptions of Canandaigua Lake in New York State.  This is a very lyrical, slow moving novel in which the environment plays a key role in shaping the characters’ lives.

    Victor Ellis has always been suspicious of moving water.  The energy and force of the currents in rivers and streams, especially the ripples that drift across Canandaigua Lake, make him feel weak.

    Time is different here: the minutes, hours and days tracked by a set of different colours, smells, directions and strength of wind across the water.  At night, Grant counts the hours by the direction of moonlight on the shifting water.

    Second chances play an important role here, with Grant and Echo given the opportunity to rekindle their former romance, Luke, the young boy who died being given a chance to give his family peace at last.  There is an underlying theme of healing and spirituality, a belief that optimism and positive thought can have a tangible effect on people’s lives.

    If you are of a cynical, sceptical nature, this is not the book for you but if you enjoy well written, stories of hope with a magical element then you will thoroughly enjoy The Language of Trees.

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    Halloween Reads 2010

    Posted in Ghost Stories, YA Fiction on October 30th, 2010 by admin – 2 Comments

    I’ve decided to do a little “medley” of my Halloween Reads this year.  As I have grown older and wiser (?) I have moved away from horror and thrillers whether in literature or film – I’ve become so chicken I can’t even go on roller coasters any more!   Therefore this selection probably only rates about 5-6 on the average reader’s scareometer but is scary enough for my fragile disposition… ;-)

    Firstly my favourite of the bunch, The Small Hand by Susan Hill which is one of the most attractive books I own.  Okay I know that beauty is only skin deep, never judge a book by its cover etc etc but who could fail to be enchanted by this small but perfectly formed volume..

    Here, Susan Hill succeeds in cranking up the tension in another chilling tale.  Antiquarian bookseller, Adam Snow discovers an abandoned Edwardian house and experiences a supernatural moment when his hand is grasped by that of a small child.

    …we stood for a time which was out of time, my own man’s hand and the very small hand held as closely together as the hand of a father and his child.  But I am not a father and the small child was invisible.

    I love the way suspense is gradually built up, the increasing sense of unease as the small hand changes from something comforting to a menacing and threatening entity which permeates Adam’s very existence.  There are little clues here and there that this tale is set in the present day, such as allusions to the internet and air travel, but the style and ambiance are distinctly gothic and ethereal.  This story begs to be read aloud around an open fire on gloomy autumnal nights – or tucked up with your electric blanket!   Fans of M R James, gothic tales and those who love subtle scary stories will enjoy The Small Hand.

    My next ghostly encounter was with the illustrious M R James whose collection of creepy tales has been lingering on my shelves waiting to pounce for several years now…  James is considered to be the master ghost story teller and he really has a deft hand when it comes to creating suspenseful scenarios which can scare the wits out of the reader by suggestion rather than in your face gore. 

    I read all of the tales in a couple of sittings but it would probably be a more satisfying reading experience to spread them out a bit and read them over a couple of months as they can seem quite samey after a while. 

    My favourite story was The Haunted Dolls’ House not only because of the terror inspired by the narrative but also because of my phobia of china dolls, you know the kind whose eyes follow you around the room…  Another of my favourites was Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad whose title actually sounds quite friendly but oh no, there is menace lurking in the wings.  I found myself wanting to shout at the protagonists – “No, don’t go into that cellar/church/crypt/cupboard!”.

    If you like to be thrilled in a subtle, sophisticated way then M R James is the man for you.

    My last ghostly read before Halloween is upon us, is a teen read, Heretic by Sarah Singleton.  It’s not really a scary read but a very atmospheric piece of historical fiction set in England in 1586.  Elizabeth finds a strange green creature in the woods – this turns out to be Isabella, a young girl who has been trapped in the faery world for several hundred years.  The girls have something in common, both have faced persecution, Isabella in the 1200s when her mother is tried as a witch,  Elizabeth for being of the Catholic faith.  What unfolds is an exciting tale as Isabella tries to help Elizabeth’s family escape the fate dealt to her family in the distant past.

    More a teen rather than a cross-over read, I did enjoy my first experience of Sarah Singleton’s writing and look forward to reading Century which won the Booktrust Teenage Prize in 2005.  A great read for those who love all things faery and fans of Michelle Harrison’s Thirteen Curses/Treasures novels.

    I’ve really enjoyed my Halloween selection this year and I think I will seek out some more Gothic tales to while away the dark and dreary evenings this Winter.

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    Review – The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill

    Posted in Ghost Stories on September 24th, 2010 by admin – 5 Comments

    It’s hard for an author to match a perfect ghost story like The Woman in Black but here, Susan Hill again manages to recreate the chilling atmosphere of a subtly woven Gothic tale.  Sir James Monmouth returns to England having spent most of his life abroad in exotic climes, following in the footsteps of his hero, the intrepid explorer Conrad Vane.  He was orphaned at the age of five and has no recollection of his childhood in England nor any family to fill in the blanks in his history.  Keen to settle down in England and have a focus in life, he embarks on research into the life of Conrad Vane with a view  to publishing his findings.  However, every time he seems to get closer to finding out more about Vane, the man, he is warned off with vague intimations as to the dark, evil side of the man he has idolised.  He is haunted by a waif like boy whose melancholy sobs and doleful countenance fill him with great sadness.  He sees the frightening apparition of an old woman behind a curtain

    I saw the black pits of her eyes with a pin-prick gleam at their centre, and a swarthiness and greasiness about her skin; I saw her hands laid on top of one another, old, scrawny, claw-like hands they seemed to me; and  the flash from a spark from jewelled or enamelled ring.

    Susan Hill excells at the slow-build up of tension and terror which gives the reader goosebumps on their goosebumps.  The atmosphere is wonderfully gothic from the opening description of dreary, rainswept Victorian London to the sinister, shaded cloisters of a public school to the windswept moors of the North complete with abandoned villages and a dilapidated country house.  In just 180 pages you are taken on a rollercoaster journey with ever-increasing thrills and twists.

    What disappointed me a little was the ending which fails to tie up loose endings and explain elements like the woman behind the curtain and the mysterious mirrors but I guess that uncertainty goes hand in hand with the nature of ghosts and the unexplained.  This is an ideal story for those dark Autumnal nights as we approach Halloween and would be an excellent accompaniment to the ghost stories of M R James.  If you haven’t read this or The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, haste ye to the bookshop/library.

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