It was dark and stormy night this past Saturday night; the wind howled down the chimney and an (almost) full moon peeked out between rainclouds as they raced across the night sky. Perfect conditions for curling up on the couch with a cup of tea to read a spooky ghost story! My book of choice was The Harrowing: A Ghost Story by Alexandra Sokoloff. This book was released last year in hardcover and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel as well as an Anthony Award for Best First Novel. It has just been released in paperback, and with Halloween just around the corner, I decided that the timing couldn't be better to finally give this a read.
A group of five loners who stay behind at their college dormitory over the Thanksgiving weekend to avoid going home to various dysfunctional family situations. The residence is an old rambling converted mansion complete with turrets, balconies, gabled rooms and meandering hallways. With a massive storm brewing, and the creepy gothic atmosphere getting to them, the five find themselves together in the lounge. Drunk, and stoned, they find an old Ouija board from 1920 that looks like it has been burned. Filled with artificial courage, they decide to play with the board and end up summoning what they believe is the ghost of a student that died (along with four others) in the attic of the residence years ago. To their horror, they discover that they've actually summoned much more scary- an ancient evil that will not give them any peace until it gets what it wants. While the characters are quite archetypal (the jock, the suicidal loner, the intellectual nerd, the brooding musician, and the promiscuous girl), the book itself is fast paced, creepy, suspenseful, and highly entertaining.
Another good creepy read is James Herbert's The Secret of Crickley Hall, one of my picks from last fall. Herbert is one of the U.K.'s top horror writers and this is his take on a classic ghost story. A couple mourning the loss of one of their children move to an old mansion in the countryside. What seems like an ideal place to regain their bearings, soon turns to a nightmare as it is revealed that the house has a very sinister past. The supernatural occurrences start almost as soon as they arrive and continue to escalate as the book progresses. Herbert is a master at creating a sense of increasing menace and tension. Read this one with the lights on!
A good spooky read for teens (Ages 12+) is Andrew Nance's Daemon Hall, which came out this June. A horror writer named Ian Tremblin, who writes a series of chillers for teens, sponsors a short story writing contest. The five finalists have to spend the night in the rumoured-to-be-haunted Daemon Hall, telling each other their spooky stories by candlelight. Anyone too scared to make it through the night forfeits their chance to win. As the teens are telling their stories, spooky and menacing events start happening in the background and the teens have to decide if the chance to win is worth risking their lives. The different stories are done in various fonts, so it is quite easy for readers to follow along. Some are comic, others downright creepy. My favourite was the entry that retold the classic 'babysitter' story using instant messaging! This book has been nominated as a 2008 YALSA Quick Pick.