Three Things I Learned from The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger Cover

The first thing I’ll say about The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is, if you’re looking for a straight-up ghost story, this isn’t the book for you. If on the other hand, you’re in the mood for a wonderfully written novel about a stately home infested with an evil you cannot quite put a name to, then, by all means, grab the book.

As readers, we come in with expectations. And I’m no different. I was expecting a ghost story. But making my way through Dr. Faraday’s narrative as he told of a house taking a terrible toll on the family living there, I came to appreciate the author’s approach. There are three things in particular I admire.

There Are Many Sources of Evil

Usually, stories of the paranormal have at their heart a ghostly presence that is typically vengeful, or they involve a demonic entity. What Sarah Waters has done is to introduce another kind of evil—something unnamed and possibly born from a person’s emotions—hate and envy, for example.

Make no mistake, though. Such a thing comes into being just as deadly. And those emotions embodied in an invisible entity can kill or, at best, drive a person mad. Unfortunately, at least one of the family suffers the latter fate.

Medicine Can’t Cure Everything

When Faraday decides to help the Ayres family, he applies everything he knows about medicine and science. He is diligent and caring. And he’s lonely. Just as there are things in Hundreds Hall he cannot cure—as much as he wants to—there are things in himself he cannot confront. And perhaps, the melding of these two poignant truths bring together the greatest tragedy.

In the End, It All Comes Down to Class

The Little Stranger is very much about post-war England and about how the well-to-do families of the former empire are no longer able to sustain themselves. Collectively, their wealth had been chipped away for a long time, much as their land was, with, as in the case of the Ayres family, vast tracts being converted to affordable housing for the masses.

Faraday is keenly aware of his station. His mother was a maid in Hundreds Hall and, even though he carries the title of Doctor, he doesn’t feel he commands the respect he deserves. Added to that, the National Health Service is coming, potentially eroding his income and position even further.

Everything in England is changing. And perhaps, Hundreds Hall is meant to disintegrate, along with a privileged way of life. Don’t expect answers from this book. In the end, there are only more questions. And you may be mulling them over for a long time after.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

“The #1 book of 2009…Several sleepless nights are guaranteed.”—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners—mother, son, and daughter—are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.

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Mark MacNicol and the Dreaded Light Project

Mark MacNicol
Courtesy of The Fountain

I hope it will be different from anything you have seen. In particular the use of light.

I ran across an interesting film project and wanted to share it with you. Mark MacNicol is a novelist and playwright. Currently, he is raising money for a film with paranormal themes called Dreaded Light. Take a look at this interview excerpt, and be sure to watch the video. Good luck, Mark!

With two novels under his belt and several stage plays, Mark MacNicol is lending his talents to film, producing, writing and directing avant-garde feature, Dreaded Light, which he is funding through ‘crowdinvestment.’

Mark spoke with The Fountain about the project, extending this experience to young offenders and how crowdinvesting is different to crowdfunding.

TF: A new film project, Dreaded Light, how exciting, what can we expect?

I hope it will be different from anything you have seen. In particular the use of light (one of the characters has a phobia of daylight). I also hope you will struggle to put it in a particular box/genre.
As the Producer Writer and Director it means I can take chances that I wouldn’t be able to or allowed to under normal circumstances. Also authenticity of subject matter (we’ve done a massive amount of research into Spiritualism).

TF: And you are providing young people with social exclusions an opportunity to work on this feature, how noble?

One of my stage plays, Kamikaze, toured high schools and young offenders units. That was a humbling experience and I got to meet a lot of very special staff and young people. While that play was touring I knew at some point in the future (if I was able to) I would reach out to them and get them involved somehow.

To see the rest of this interview, please visit The Fountain.

Three Things I Learned from Ghost Story

Ghost Story Cover

I first read Peter Straub’s terrifying Ghost Story decades ago, and I recently decided to pick it up again to see if my impressions had changed. They hadn’t. The work is mesmerizing. The author has created in the fictional town of Millburn a waystation steeped in snow where people live their separate lives, oblivious to the horrid things lurking in the forest waiting to strike. Eventually, these corrupt creatures come for the hapless residents, and they are caught unawares.

In many ways, this tale of ghostly revenge is instructive in how it shows us the consequences of mistreatment people visit on one another. The town itself is filled with characters surviving in escalating degrees of guilt, and it is precisely these stains on their souls that mark the victims for the marauders intent on feeding on them.

I admire this book so much, and I wanted to share three things I learned.

Turn It Up to Eleven
If you’re going to get revenge, it’s better if, instead of concentrating on a few elderly townsfolk, you turn it up to eleven and destroy the whole town. The chief villain who is known by many names—all of them with the initials AM—is going to do just that. And, like the author, she proceeds to instruct her victims in the ways of the occult and the reasons why they must die. Fortunately, because of the combined bravery of Ricky Hawthorne, Peter Barnes, and Don Wanderly, the monster’s coup de grâce cannot be delivered. Good effort, though.

Make Sure There’s Plenty of Guilt to Go Around
Stories in which the innocent are slaughtered like sheep are not fun, in my view. But take a town full of characters who have done everything from the despicable to the merely annoying and go after them—now you’ve got something. Of course, the Chowder Society members are the worst, because they caused a young woman’s death (well, she looked like a young woman, Officer) and literally buried the evidence. Then add a crazed farmer who is forever suing people and seeing Martians, a drunken shell of a sheriff, and a wife who would rather have sex with just about every other man in town than stay home. Plenty of ammunition for a vengeful, murderous, supernatural being, wouldn’t you agree?

Make the Ghost Something Else
This last point speaks to Straub’s brilliance. He could’ve done as Henry James did in The Turn of the Screw and delivered a good old-fashioned vengeful spirit. But he went one better—he created a being—or, God help us, a race of beings—that have occupied the planet for thousands of years, and enjoy feeding not only on people’s flesh but on their fears. For me, that’s what sends this novel over the top. Because you can’t just cower inside a circle of salt, holding up a crucifix. These things are real, my friend.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Ghost Story, I suggest you grab a copy and prepare not to sleep. And while you’re at it, check out the movie, which was released in 1981 and features the esteemed Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, and John Houseman.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
#1 New York Times bestselling author Peter Straub’s classic tale of horror, secrets, and the dangerous ghosts of the past…

What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?

In the sleepy town of Milburn, New York, four old men gather to tell each other stories—some true, some made-up, all of them frightening. A simple pastime to divert themselves from their quiet lives.

But one story is coming back to haunt them and their small town. A tale of something they did long ago. A wicked mistake. A horrifying accident. And they are about to learn that no one can bury the past forever…

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Book Review—From Away

From Away Cover

Those who experience the paranormal regularly aren’t like most people. Especially if they are, as the taciturn locals on Fox Island like to say, from away. This is the situation Sammy Kehoe faces when he convinces his sister Charlotte to flee to the scene of their many childhood family vacations rather than face the prospect of continuing as they have been, sad and numb from the long-ago death of their parents and brother. Not to mention suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous languor.

Others might have used the opportunity to refuel so they could return to “real life,” rested and ready to be productive. But Sammy has problems. For starters, he can’t stop seeing the dead and desperately wishes they would leave him the hell alone. Can that explain why at way past college age, he still works in a video rental store?

In lesser hands, the premise of this novel would have played out as maudlin and uninteresting. But the way this author describes Sammy’s state of mind as he tells the story—accompanied often by wry, even side-splitting observations—drew me into this strange family, wanting more than anything to learn how they would extricate themselves from their collective morass which, if left unchecked, could have a lasting adverse effect on Charlotte’s daughter, Maggie.

If you like ghost stories that are fresh and modern and feature plenty of humor, then I highly recommend From Away. You won’t be disappointed.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Sammy Kehoe, his sister, Charlotte, and her four-year-old daughter, Maggie, are all each other have left since the car accident that killed the rest of their family. When they visit their beloved old family home on remote Fox Island, Maine, Sammy and Charlotte each have relationship sparks with island locals. But the budding idyll is shattered when Sammy and Maggie’s unexplained abilities to “see things” are put to the test when dangerous ghosts from the past resurface. At first, this novel about an unusual and loving family draws readers in with warmth and intrigue—and then it builds with suspense that makes it impossible to put down.

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Book Review—Sorrow’s Lie

[Sorrow’s Lie Cover]Well, it seems Jimmy is hitting his stride at last. He’s gotten himself together enough to actually be in a place where he can contemplate married life with his sweetheart, Tabby. The ghosts in his charge are more or less intact (wait, can ghosts be intact?). And he might actually be just a little…happy.

But of course, with Danielle DeVor, you know this rainbow is doomed to turn gray—even black. There’s always some new evil lurking just around the corner that demands Jimmy’s attention. And this time, it’s baaaaaad. So much for honeymooning in the Poconos.

I am a huge fan of this series, and so far, this is my favorite. The characters are well developed and familiar, and the terror is worse than ever. If you like dark fiction with this author’s trademark humor, then I suggest you pick up Sorrow’s Lie. Just make sure the doors and windows are locked and warded.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description
Only an Exorcist Can Confront His Demons

Jimmy Holiday, exorcist extraordinaire, is about to embark on his most unusual case yet—a baby that may be possessed by the demonic…or worse, a true demon spawn. The Order wants him to make sure it is a true case and not some hoax…or so they say.

Once Jimmy arrives, the situation changes into a living nightmare. The Order is not what he thought at all. And now, they demand he commit an unspeakable act. But Jimmy has enough scars of his own.

When the full truth of the corruption within the Order comes to light, Jimmy must act. With a voudou woman who lives down the lane as an ally, Jimmy must fight for the life of this supernatural child, but at what cost?

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Book Review—The Last Victim

[The Last Victim Cover]So, I’m swearing off Alaskan king crab and Baked Alaska now. In fact, I will most likely never take that Alaskan summer cruise I was planning. Why? Because I read The Last Victim. More specifically, I allowed Jordan Dane’s mad tale to get under my skin and into my nightmares. Yeah, really.

This is some seriously good writing. The author has presented a well-researched, imaginative story about an FBI profiler with a big problem—he can connect with the dead. Oh, great. I’ll bet he’s fun at parties. I mean, this guy’s got more baggage than a luggage cart at the Ritz Carlton. The book is well crafted and haunting in its ability to pull you into the mind of a serial killer and the hunter who is in pursuit. And, believe it or not, there’s still room for a little humor—gallows humor, maybe. But hey.

If you’re drawn to the gruesome while still demanding good plotting, believable characters, and plot twists coming at you at a breathtaking pace, then I suggest you pick up this novel. You won’t be sorry. But, like me, you might be hesitant to visit our forty-ninth state anytime soon.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description
When a young hunting guide from a remote island in Alaska is found brutally murdered, his naked body is discovered in the Cascade Mountains outside Seattle—the shocking pinnacle to a grisly Totem of body parts. Nathan Applewhite is the fourteenth victim of a cunning serial killer who targets and stalks young men.

With the body count escalating, FBI profiler Ryker Townsend and his specialized team investigate the gruesome crime scene. They find no reason for Nate to have mysteriously vanished from his isolated home in Alaska before he ended up in the hands of a sadist, who has been taunting Ryker and his team in a sinister game of ‘catch me if you can.’

But Townsend has a secret he won’t share with anyone—not even his own team—that sets him on the trail of a ruthless psychopath, alone. The intuitive FBI profiler is plagued by recurring nightmares—seen through Nate’s dead eyes—that slowly chips away at his mental stability. Is he burning out and losing his mind—becoming unfit for duty—or is the last victim reaching out to him from the grave?

Townsend sees horrific flashes of memory, imprinted on the retinas of a dead man, the last image Applewhite saw when he died. Ryker must piece together the fragments. Each nightmarish clue brings him closer to a killer who knows how to hide in plain sight and will see him coming, but when the dead man has the skills of a hunting guide, he has the perfect ally to track down a killer—the last victim.

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Book Review—Sorrow’s Turn

I read the first two books in this series, and this one is my favorite. Mainly, I love the way the author has developed the relationship between Jimmy Holiday and his old-now-new girlfriend, Tabby who, as it happens is also his exorcism buddy. Yeah, you read that right. A former Catholic priest has teamed up with a witch to save the world from bad things. Quite a unique concept, if you ask me.

The central conflict in the series is within Jimmy himself. He has learned to his never-ending bewilderment that he is a “marker,” which means he possesses the power to save souls from eternal damnation by marking them. And if that isn’t bad enough, he’s learned there exists an Order of Markers. And these boys don’t really have much of a sense of humor. Though he continues to do the right thing by confronting demons as they possess people, he’s not too happy about it and, sometimes, wishes he could simply hide and eat chocolate. What, no rotgut whiskey?

Sorrow’s Turn is a very entertaining read. If you like paranormal stories with some pretty crazy twists, I suggest you start with the first book. I wouldn’t call Jimmy’s life a roller coaster exactly. It’s more like the funhouse in an abandoned amusement park. You really don’t want to continue forward, but you’re too scared to go back the way you came.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Blurb

[Sorrow’s Turn Cover]

Some Things are Worse Than Demons.

Jimmy Holiday, reluctant exorcist, is finally getting the help he needs from the higher-ups. The Order of Markers is sending him to the Vatican’s exorcism school. Now, he’ll receive the training he should have gotten at the beginning. One problem, someone wants to sabotage him.

When his time at the school is cut short, Jimmy receives an interesting new case. It is the assignment that no one wants—a corpse has come back to life. And it isn’t a zombie.

Too bad nothing goes as expected. Armed with his usual bag of tricks, Jimmy thinks everything will eventually be all right. Well, that is until his betrayer turns out to be the person he trusts most.

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SORROW’S EDGE—Taking Horror on the Road

Sequels are tough—trust me, I know. As an author, you must delve deeper into the mystery that is your hero, looking for new weaknesses to exploit. That’s right, what you want is to put this guy through more hell and see if he’ll survive. In Jimmy Holiday’s case, you’ve got an embarrassment of riches. He’s a former priest and, though still a tortured Catholic, finds himself seriously questioning the path God has apparently chosen for him. You see, Jimmy is a reluctant exorcist—and a marker. To make matters worse, he’s in a complicated relationship with Tabby, a mercurial young woman of the witchy variety. And if that isn’t enough, he’s the guardian of a six-year-old girl named Lucy who is, um, not all there.

The thing I love most about Danielle DeVor’s work is that she never takes the easy road. Her imagination seems boundless. Sure, there’s horror, demons, ghosts, and a myriad of other spooky goings-on. But I’ve noticed that she likes to mess with her characters. A lot. And the reader is better for it. And speaking of roads, the entourage is now headed for Tombstone, Arizona, where more ungodly things are brewing. Good luck, Jimmy!

There’s a lot you can love about Sorrow’s Edge. And though the book is a great read, I suggest you start with Sorrow’s Point. Pairing up an ex-priest with a witch and a ghost girl? Wish I’d thought of it.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Blurb
[Sorrow's Edge Cover]

Uncovering The Truth…Will Take An Exorcist

Jimmy Holiday, defrocked priest turned exorcist, is trying to get his life in order. With his on-again off-again witchy girlfriend moving in, the spirit of the little girl from his last exorcism hanging around, and a secret organization of exorcists hounding him, Jimmy equals stressed. 

When a stranger calls in the middle of the night asking for help with a possession, Jimmy is about to land in a mess of trouble. Especially since the man on the phone claims to have gotten his number from Jimmy’s old mentor. Too bad his mentor has been dead for years.

After a mysterious silver flask arrives at his doorstep, Jimmy is left with two options: either ignore the newest enigma the universe has tossed him, or listen to Lucy and travel to Arizona to solve the mystery before all hell breaks loose…again.

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