Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

IMG_2681A woman named Amanda lies in a fever in a rural hospital clinic,  A young boy, David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child.

David is prompting Amanda to recount the events that led to her illness, constantly pushing her to fix on the ‘important moment’, the moment when the ‘worms’ got in. Yet for Amanda what is important is where her young daughter Nina is. She talks a lot about the ‘rescue distance’, something most parents are constantly measuring and recalibrating as their children grow. How far away from you are they? Are they close enough to rescue should danger befall them?

As David continues to push her, the horror of the thing that has befallen them is exposed, is there any way back through it? Can Amanda get back to being within rescue distance of Nina?

Samanta Schweblin is a fairly new voice on the Spanish literary scene, her short stories have won critical acclaim but this is her first novel. It was rightfully shortlisted for the Man Booker international prize as it is incredibly evocative. Reading it you feel like you are in a fever dream, nothing is quite where it should be and memories are more vivid than the world around you. This lends itself perfectly to the strange, creeping, psychological menace.

I can’t tell you more of the plot without ruining it for you, but I would definitely recommend you read it if you like books that are a bit weird and that don’t necessarily tie up every loose end for you. This is like that, it’s a melody in a minor key that will keep surfacing in your mind like a memory of illness and loss. It is a tale of maternal love and the power and desperation of family.

Some praise must also go to the translator Megan McDowell.

Five Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood

1cover120428-mediumMad-doctor Nathaniel is obsessed with the beautiful Mrs Harleston – but is she truly delusional? Or is she hiding secrets that should never be uncovered . . . ?

Overshadowed by his father’s suicide, Nathaniel Kerner finds it hard to find work in his chosen field of ailments of the mind. Reluctantly he takes up a position at Crakethorne Asylum, only to find the proprietor is more interested in his growing collection of skulls than helping his patients – fame seems unlikely to find Nathaniel here. His only interesting case is Mrs Victoria Adelina – Vita – Harleston: she is interesting because she doesn’t really seem mad at all – her husband accuses her of hysteria and delusions – but she accuses him of hiding secrets far more terrible.

Nathaniel becomes increasingly obsessed with Vita, and when an opportunity presents itself to have her mesmerised he leaps at it, imagining seeing papers in journals with his name attached.

But the session doesn’t go well and the next morning Vita has vanished and it seems Nathaniel may have been tricked into aiding her escape.

Increasingly besotted, Nathaniel finds himself caught up in a world of séances and stage mesmerism in his bid to find Vita and save her.

But constantly hanging over him is this warning: that doctors are apt to catch the diseases with which they are surrounded – whether of the body or the mind . . .

I really enjoyed Alison Littlewood’s The Hidden People last year so was thrilled to see another new release from her. Although set in the same era this is quite a different book, this is freezing fog in winter at 4pm as opposed to a hot lazy 4pm in August. Although both are mysterious, this is one where you can’t really see what’s going on four paces in front of you. And although both are a little creepy – this is skin shivering creepy whereas the other is beguilingly creepy. I’m starting to think that Alison Littlewood is the modern day successor to Wilkie Collins, The Hidden People feels similar to The Moonstone and this feels like the Woman in White – the stories are different, there’s no plagiarism, they are not re-writings in any way. But if you like Wilkie Collins my guess is you’ll like Alison Littlewood.

5 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Beloved Poison by E. S. Thomson

The blurb for this book is brilliant so instead of trying to create a new and more accurate one for you as I usually do I’m just going to let you read the original…

Ramshackle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour’s Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.

And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary’s old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past – with fatal consequences.

In a trail that leads from the bloody world of the operating theatre and the dissecting table to the notorious squalor of Newgate and the gallows, Jem’s adversary proves to be both powerful and ruthless. As St Saviour’s destruction draws near, the dead are unearthed from their graves whilst the living are forced to make impossible choices. And murder is the price to be paid for the secrets to be kept.” 

I had this on my kindle for an age before I finally got round to reading it. I’m not sure why exactly but I had a strong feeling Id enjoy it and I just wanted to wait until the ‘right’ time to read it! When I finally did start it I was both annoyed at myself for waiting so long and also a little bit smug that I still had it there to read.

As gothic mysteries go this is close to perfect. The writing is erudite and laced with regret, the villain so evil that reproach slides off him like slime down a sewer and the settings are darkened with soot and scented by sewers. The main characters are complex and all seem to have shameful secrets clipping their wings.

Yet even with it being as gothic mystery as a gothic mystery could be, it is not cliched. There is sympathy and understanding for the other characters and a sense of realism that makes the reader believe this could really have happened. It’s a very visual book too and would make a great film to watch in the autumn or winter with a crackling fire and a hot chocolate with a nip or two of something stronger in it!

Treat yourself!

Four Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Chalk by Paul Cornell

It’s 1983 and Andrew Waggoner is used to being bullied but one day Drake and his gang take things far too far. The violence they perpetrate on him cuts his very soul in half. It can’t be forgiven but Andrew has never been the kind of boy who could take revenge before.

Andrew lives in the eyeline of an ancient chalk horse, standing vigil over a site of ancient power. There he finds in himself an anger that divides him and could easily destroy those responsible.

This might seem like a Young Adult book from the blurb, and indeed it would suit readers of around 13 and older, but it stands it’s ground as a read for adults too.

It is brutal. I won’t tell you what happens to Andrew or what happens as a consequence but I winced and looked away a fair few times. Underlying that though is tenderness of family life, and the normalcy of caring about chart music and Dr Who. There’s also the tension and confusion that comes with having a crush on someone as well as the temptation to bully and harrass those weaker than you. Andrew joins in with bullying the few friends he has and starts a campaign of sexual harrassment against a girl that tells him he’s not even on her list of people she’d send a Valentines Card too. All behaviour that many of us would have experienced at school.

I think one of the things that’s so un-nerving about it is that it seems so autobiographical, Paul Cornell has written for Dr Who in the past so his love of it is well known, and the way the chart hits are woven through it becoming and integral thread of the story reinforces that feeling of familiarity.

The story is great, it’s well paced and things unfold with a feeling of inevitability that echoes that feeling of everything being out of control that plauges teenagehood.Having said that there are twists and there was a few times I worried about the author’s mental health!

The characters aren’t the most richly developed or nuanced that I’ve ever read but their main motivations are apparent enough and in keeping with who they seem to be, and I did care enough about them to read the story through to the end, very quickly in fact, I read it in a day!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

image“There was a new King, and his name was Pestilence. And he had created a new law – Thou shalt do anything to survive”

It’s 1348 and plague has reached the shores of England. Camelot, a scarred peddler of holy relics, usually travels alone. But when he meets Rodrigo and Joffrey, two musicians new to the road after the death of their master, he takes pity on them and agrees they can accompany him to the next town. There they meet a young painter Osmand and his pregnant wife Adela and Camelot bumps into the obnoxious Zophiel, a magician he’s met before who sells glimpses of an embalmed mer-baby. A storm forces them all to travel together and soon they are joined by Cygnus, who has a swan’s wing where one arm should be; Narigorm, a sinister rune-reading albino child with second sight, Pleasance a lonely midwife and a horse called Xanthus.

As they try to outrun the plague, they become aware that they all have secrets they want to keep concealed. But soon they realise that something else is chasing them too, something that won’t just kill them but could expose them too.

I listened to this as an audiobook and before I talk about anything else I have to sing the praises of the narrator. It’s read by a chap called David Thorpe who has narrated over 200 audiobooks and he is brilliant! Every character had a different voice and every single voice sounded like his natural voice. He had to deal with a range of accents and attitudes from a solicitous Italian to supercilious English. Since listening to this I’ve added a whole load of books narrated by this guy to my wish list.

Apart from that I really enjoyed this book, all manner of human fear and desires were explored, the characterisations were excellent and the story had plenty of tension.  It might not be ‘literary’ but it is bloody good! I know I’ll listen to it again, and since listening to this I’ve become a confirmed fan of Karen Maitland’s work, I leapt at the chance to read an advance copy of her new novel The Plague Charmer a little while ago, I also got a bargain copy of The Raven’s Head and I think I might have got BookEater Kelly hooked to if her review of The Gallow’s Curse is anything to go by!

But if I’m honest I’ll probably listen to them all as well – particularly if they’re voiced by David Thorpe!

4 Bites

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories by Many Wonderful Writers!

Click here to order from Waterstones

We all know of the Djinn, immortal beings can grant wishes but epitomise the moral of being careful what you wish for as your wish may have unforeseen consequences. This collection of tales bring us stories of Djinn in many parts of the world in the past, the present and the future. They are everywhere. Outside your back garden, on street corners, in the mosque, behind the wheel of a taxi, on mars, surrounding you on stage. Sometimes the divide between them and us is paper thin, their humanity more painful than our own, sometimes their omnipotence allows us to believe they are miles from us instead.

There are stories here from bestselling, award-winning and breakthrough international writers. Honestly when it comes to the quality of the writing you’ll be hard-pressed to know which is a breakthrough author and which has won awards. The standard is consistently high. The cultural diversity of the authors should be praised to with writers from a large variety of backgrounds, reading this is likely to lead you to discovering at least a couple of new favourite authors.

That being said there were of course stories I preferred. And part of the joy of a short story collection is that you can flick over stories that aren’t right for you at the moment without any guilt! You can’t really skip chapters in novels in the same way.

For me the ones that didn’t appeal were the futuristic ones. I think that’s a failing on my part though, or on my mood or expectations. When it comes to Djinn I want to read about magic, glamour not a grey cargo hold. I may revisit those stories in the future though when I’m feeling more open minded! If you’ve read them and think I’m an idiot for skipping them don’t hesitate to tell me!

My favourite stories were Kamila Shamsie’s “The Congregation”, the first story in the collection and a heart-achingly beautiful tale of a young boy finding his brother. Neil Gaiman’s “Somewhere in America”, a stand-alone extract from American Gods. Claire North’s contribution is the most reminiscent of 1001 nights so of course I loved it. But I was stopped in my tracks by Amal El-Mohtar’s prose-poem “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” which reminded me immensely of The Book of The Dead – one of my favourite books ever. Kirsty Logan’s “The Spite House” is really clever yet pulses with heart and anxiety. And Sophia Al-Maria’s “The Righteous Guide of Arabsat” is a vibrant, authentic and eventually scary look at a man’s fear of female sexuality.

Pick it up, rub it, and make a wish.

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

As I Descended by Robin Talley

Click to Order from Waterstones

Power resides in all kinds of places these days so when Robin Talley decided to take Macbeth as inspiration the first thing she did was change the seat of power being vied for to an American High School.

Maria Lyon is one of her schools most popular students. But since she fell in love with her roommate Lily Boiten there are obstacles in her path that she never dreamed of. They can’t come out but if Maria can just win the Cawdor Kingsley Prize they’ll be assured the same college and four more years in a shared dorm room. But one thing stands in their way, Maria’s one-time friend and the most popular girl Delilah Dufrey. Lily and Maria are willing to do anything―absolutely anything―to unseat Delilah for the scholarship. They hold a seance together with Maria’s best friend Brandon but things get out of hand and before long feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what’s imagined, the girls must attempt to put a stop to the chilling series of events they’ve accidentally set in motion.

I’ve read a fair few Shakespeare plots reimagined over the last couple of years and although most have been lit-fic – written by some of our greatest writers; don’t think that this one – written for the YA market by a fairly new (though already award winning) author can’t compete. It can and it does.

For a start, this isn’t a straight up re-write and some of the ways it honours the original are subtle and quite frankly a little twisty. There are no witches, instead she cast the three main characters in the fortune telling role through the seance, and there are plenty of other deviations too.

One of the other aspects I liked was the fact that there LGBT+ leading characters and that they weren’t some kind of freak show or tragedy device. Don’t get me wrong, awful things are done by and happen to these characters but awful things also happen to the straight characters. Not only that but the issues of being out or staying closeted are raised and stereotypes about LGBT+ people and drug-taking are circumvented. The characters are driven by deep and passionate loves but the fact that they are same gender in these cases is just a fact, it’s obvious that these characters could easily have been driven the same way if they were straight and there were obstacles to their happiness.

This is a great mix of psychological horror and waking drama with a big dollop of the supernatural stirred through it.

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland

plague-charmerThirteen years after the Great Pestilence of 1348, plague returns to England’s shores. A dark haired stranger rescued from the sea warns the residents of Porlock Weir of it’s approach and promises she can charm it away for the price of a single human life.

For Will, dwarfed in childhood and recently exiled from his job as jester life could hardly get worse anyway so he cares little about the plague, but Sara, now a wife and mother,  remembers the horror of losing her own parents and fears for safety of her family. Still, any human life is too high a price when plague is still a rumour.

But when the sickness comes and people begin to die, the cost no longer seems so unthinkable...

It seems strange to think that I only discovered Karen Maitland’s work a year ago when I reviewed The Raven’s Head, in that time I’ve completely fallen for her gothic tales and impeccably flawed characters. I’ve delved into her back catalogue since and recently listened to her most famous book – Company of Liars (review coming soon) and BookEater Kelly fell under her spell as well reviewing The Gallow’s Curse just a couple of months ago.

She’s the queen of the dark ages, unlike many historical novelists though, Maitland’s tales mainly focus on the ordinary people. There may be some lesser nobles thrown into the mix to show the contrast in living conditions, but she’s not trying to chronicle the lives of the Kings and Queens. Her research into how people lived in those times imbues her stories with all the taste and texture you could wish for so you can experience the horrors and deprivations without leaving the comfort of your own home!

This book is no departure from her willing formula, there are secrets uncovered, depths of souls are measured, there are mysteries that are smoked in magic, there is love and betrayal and madness and fear.

Best read by an open fire in winter after a country romp on  a grey drizzly day. You’ll be more grateful than usual for your Sunday roast after reading!

4 Bites

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Returning Eden by Maria Mellins

imageThe fact that this book is described as a  “gothic ocean mystery” intrigued me straight away. Often we think of the sea as sparkling and sunshiny so this promised something that would embrace it’s depths rather than its shallows!

Eden and her family left the remote island of Cantillon, and her best friend Dylan, suddenly when she was just a child. But now she’s back and starting college much to the chagrin of her parents.

But just as she’s settling in and making new friends,  she escapes an attacker, then a corpse dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, is found floating in the ocean.

Her new friends and Dylan help her investigate the mystery, scared that the killer will strike again. But as they do so they discover that Eden is at the centre of a dark and dangerous mystery – keeping her safe puts them all in peril!

I have to be honest, when I first started reading this I got a sinking feeling in my stomach and not because I was worried about the characters. It seemed to be aimed at a younger age group than I’d thought and the authors voice was a little clumsy. I stopped reading it and didn’t pick it up again until 2 weeks later.

When I did I wasn’t sure why I’d thought the writing was clumsy, and, rejoining the book after the chapters on Eden and Dylan’s childhood friendship, it was clearly aimed at those in their mid-teens upwards. I breathed a sigh of relief and settled in for a good read.

The author does a really good job of creating a perfect gothic atmosphere – misty, menacing and myopic. It’s balanced well by the teenage mood swings – optimism, melodrama and determination, and the story cracks on at a good pace.

If I was to be hypercritical I have to say the characters aren’t quite developed enough, but it seems this is the start of a series so that might be rectified in future novels.

I really liked the idea, it is different and I think a lot of those that read Young Adult books will appreciate that.

3.5 Bites

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Black-Eyed-Susans-by-Julia-HeaberlinWhen Tessa was seventeen something horrible happened to her. She can’t remember everything, but she remembers being in the grave with the bones of two unknown women and the body of another girl, Meredith. She’s rescued and becomes famous as the only victim to survive the ‘Black-Eyed Susan’s Serial Killer’.

Now, it seems that the man jailed because of her testimony might not be guilty – and the real killer might have just planted black-eyed susans outside her bedroom window…

First off let me start by saying that this isn’t the kind of book I usually read. I will sometimes, but serial killers aren’t generally my bowl of Rice Crispies. So the fact that I read this at all is down to the fact that I saw it everywhere – and when a publishing house spends that much on marketing a book they must REALLY believe in it.

From the first page I was hooked.  Julia Heaberlin knows how to fascinate, the juxtaposing of comforting images, innocent images, celabratory images and grotesque images is too heady a recipe to resist!  Add Tessa’s firey, defensive, protective personality into that and the race against time to save a wrongfully convicted man from Death Row and it’s all out binge time!

I wish I could say I read this in one sitting – I would have done if I hadn’t had to go to work! I was a little disappointed that it seemed fairly obvious out who the real killer was about a quarter of the way through… But there were a couple of red herrings thrown in which were enough to make me doubt myself. Besides the journey was so great I wasn’t always sure I wanted to know who did it! Was the killer who I thought it was? I can’t tell you because I don’t want to spoil it for you!

Despite this rave review I can’t quite bring myself to give it the full 5 bites. That’s only because it didn’t force me to challenge any beliefs or think outside my comfort zone, or leave me feeling like I’d learnt something from it. But don’t let my weird criteria stop you from buying it. It’s a great read!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Please note- In order to be honest in this review, I have had to include spoilers for both this book and the original Pride and Prejudice.

PPZI should have known better, I really should. I was swayed by slick marketing and the greatness that is Matt Smith.

Having previously read the first couple of chapters of P&P&Z in a book shop, I had safely pigeon-holed it in my head as probably a fairly amusing book but not really my cup of tea. I put it back on the shelf and toddled along on my merry way, a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice tucked under my arm.

Several years later, the first trailers for the film version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hit the internet and they looked brilliant! Ridiculous and silly but entertaining- I was looking forward to seeing it in a strangely excited way.
To tide me over until release day, I bought the book .

It’s a fairly straight forward premise- Imagine that England has been struck by a zombie virus which gives the stricken a never-ending hunger for human brains. The Bennett sisters are trained by their father and Shaolin monks to be super duper zombie killing machines and are commissioned by the king to keep Hertfordshire as zombie free as possible. Mr Darcy is an accomplished zombie killer himself who accompanies Mr Bingley (who would prefer a more peaceful and scientific solution) to Netherfield. Then Pride and Prejudice happens

All the characters are there; all the Bennetts, the Bingley sisters, Lady Catherine (a famous and respected zombie hunter herself), Wickham, Mr Collins, Charlotte, Mr and Mrs Gardiner. The basic story is identical, the sub-plots are largely the same,and the dialogue is only slightly altered.

So what did I think?
Initially, as before, I was amused. The weaving in of the zombie story was pretty good, some of the changes were really very funny, and of course, there was Jane Austen’s brilliance to fall back on in moments of weakness. As I commented to BookEater Kelly “Most of the credit is still going to Jane Austen but I’m excessively diverted“.

But this didn’t last long. After a couple of chapters, the niggly annoyances set in. The throwaway comments that had my nose wrinkling in disgust, the changes in characterisaton that were just unnecessary, the casual references to self harm being a thing of honour, the gratuitous non-zombie related violence . I could actually go on but I want to keep this review to a readable length!

There were some elements obviously designed to inject more humour that just fell flat- Mr Bennett’s extra-marital affairs, Mrs Gardiner’s extra-marital affairs (whilst her husband was around with a Polish man named Sylak… what?), Mary’s emergence into society as a euphemism for getting it on with multiple men.

The gratuitous non-parody violence- Any affront to Elizabeth’s honour is met with threats of murder and the drinking of blood from the necks of those who have insulted her (ewww), she self- harms as a way of showing her shame at having prejudged Darcy, and she brutally murders several of Lady Catherine’s ninjas to make a point. It isn’t just Elizabeth’s violence- Wickham ends up completely paralysed and incapable of controlling his bowels at the hands of Darcy. It was all over the top and unnecessary. And yes, I get that it’s parody and I get that it’s supposed to be funny. But it wasn’t funny. It was stupid. It wasn’t serving the story.

And I’m sorry to include spoilers but I have to get something off my chest.
Mr Collins is not a likable character in Pride and Prejudice but he has a definite characterisation that fits his role within the book and he is consistent. In P&P&Z, his character is changed beyond all recognition! Charlotte has become one of the stricken and is choosing to hide this so she can marry Mr Collins and have some months of happiness. Mr Collins marries Charlotte for all the same reasons as Jane Austen had. When Charlotte is eventually discovered and beheaded by her husband, he writes to Mr Bennett that he is now off to hang himself from a tree. WHAT???!!
1. She is slowly becoming a zombie over several months and NOBODY notices (Except Elizabeth who has been sworn to secrecy)? The excuse that Lady Catherine was experimenting on her doesn’t hold up at all…
2. Mr Collins is so distraught that he hangs himself??? What? I’m sorry but that totally negates the idea of Charlotte and Mr Collins’ marriage being a marriage of convenience rather than love. And goes against every element of his character. He’s so self-involved that there is no way that this would be the outcome.

This review may have slightly gotten away from me (although there are many more things I could say!) but I think my views are clear. I wouldn’t even having finished reading if it hadn’t have been for the fact that so much of Jane Austen’s story was still present.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is unnecessary. Stay well away.

1 bite for the initial diversion.








Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Vampires and Demons and Ghosts! Oh My!

All Hallows’ Eve is nearly upon us. A night where the borders between the worlds of the living and the dead are a little more fragile than usual. In celebration, the BookEaters have come out from hiding under their blankets and chosen their favourite scary stories. These books terrify but also inspire us. Read on…if you dare!

Sarah BookEater: The Shining  by Stephen King
imageI’m not sure whether it’s generally best to read a book before the film comes out, or watch the film first. In the case of ‘The Shining’ it was actually such a long time since I’d even seen the film that by the time I got round to reading the book it was like a completely new story.
In fact, even if I hadn’t seen the film it would have been like a new story, as the book and film are completely different; from the main characters’ names and personalities to the plot and the ending. The way the book was written focussed very much on Danny, the young boy, his scary visions, ‘The Shining’ – and also left the reader thinking that there WAS something evil about the Overlook hotel. Stanley Kubrick deliberately left the film very ambiguous. Was the hotel possessed? Did Jack Torrance go mad or was the hotel messing with his head? Did Danny have a gift for premonition and a psychic sidekick?
The film has a haunted maze, the book has hedges which come to life and chase Jack around the grounds (yes, really!)
There’s a foreboding throughout the book; a creaky old boiler that threatens to explode, taking the hotel with it. It’s not in the film, and in the film the family freezes to death but…I won’t ruin the book for you by telling you what happens to them.
If you enjoyed the film, and haven’t read the book, give it another read and see whether it gives you a whole new perspective on an old story…

Tam BookEater: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Where better to set a supernatural imagenovel than in a cemetery and Highgate is the perfect choice for this twisted dark tale of love and loss. In Victorian times the cemetery was neat and tidy – a showroom for statuary and stage-managed grief, but maintenance costs were phenomenal so it fell into disrepair and nature took over. Tree roots destabilised some of the graves and the paths became dangerous, the plants spread colonising every surface and by the 1960s it had become a wilderness. Rumours of ghosts and vampires circulated and culminated on Friday 13th March 1970 in a sizeable crowd forcing their way passed the police presence to take part in a mass vampire hunt! However, this novel is not about that period but it draws on the associations we as readers subconsciously hold to create an eerie other-worldliness. The main characters have flats in a house directly overlooking this wilderness and the line between the living and the dead is more blurred than gravestones and marble angels would suggest.

Kelly BookEater: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

imageArthur Kipps is a young solicitor who is sent out to attend the funeral of Mrs Drablow, a client of his firm’s. At the funeral, Arthur sees a mourner standing to the side of the others, a woman dressed in black. Yet it would seem that he was the only person to have seen her. Arthur stays on at Mrs Drablow’s residence, Eel Marsh House to settle some of the firm’s business. Separated from the nearby village by a causeway, Arthur finds himself increasingly isolated. He hears noises in the night and sees the woman in black prowling the grounds.

This is a classic ghost story. At the start of the novel, Arthur reminisces about his experiences in Eel Marsh House. The safety of the Christmas Eve setting of the beginning contrasts with the fear later in the novel, making it even more harrowing. It is wonderfully written. The terror felt by Arthur is palpable and the nursery scene kept me awake the night I read it. Word of advice: read it in the daytime!

Mai BookEater: The Owl Service by Alan Garner

imageMy first experience of this book was of seeing the BBC series. The opening credits are, I think, almost as spooky as the film in ‘The Ring’. Here are the links so you can decide for yourself.

Maybe one was inspired by the other.

The novel tells of an ancient myth about a wizard who makes a lady out of flowers for a great hero. While the hero is away fighting, she falls in love with another man and plots to murder her husband. When the plot fails, she is turned into an owl as punishment and it is said of the other birds:

‘It will be in their nature to harass you and despise you wherever they find you.’

The story is repeated through the ages until nearly present day where three young people are bought together and re-enact the story again and again.
And so we meet three new players: Roger, Gwyn and Alison. Unable to escape their fate they are drawn into re-living the ancient tale of murder, jealousy and obligation.

In the most terrifying part, Gwyn tries to escape the valley, the place where it all happens, but is prevented by the animals, the grass, the sky and all of nature.

Equally frightening for young and old, I would recommend both the book and the TV series to anyone interested in myth, nature and class conflict.

PS Do look out for the postscript in the 2007 edition where Alan Garner comments on the how it was to film in the actual setting. Spooky stuff.

Gem BookEater: The Raven’s Head by Karen Maitland

imageHorror and things that go bump in the night aren’t really my genre – I’m not going to lie, that stuff scares the pudding out of me! But lately I have been reading a little more and I seem to be developing a taste for the gothic.
I recently read Karen Maitland’s ‘The Ravens Head’. Set in Medieval France and England, it follows an apprentice librarian as he bungles into the plot of a group of Alchemists. All have their own intentions and are out to double cross the others but not until the blood of innocent children has been shed.
It is a dark and darstedly tale, perfect for the long winters nights. I was impressed by the way she managed to make the characters sympathetic and believable – even the baddies! They’ll be a full review up sometime soon, but don’t wait for that – read it and let me know what you think!

Rachel BookEater: The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman

AmberIt feels a tad lame to be including this children’s book in a list of scary books but, as I avoid scary books at all costs, my choices for this post were somewhat limited! The brief was to think of book that terrified and yet also inspired me, and The Amber Spyglass fulfills both of those criterion. Specifically it is the concept of the ‘Deaths’ midway through the third volume of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy… Your death follows you around for your whole life waiting for the moment to tap you on the shoulder and lead you off to the world of the dead? Yikes! Despite the fact that this has stayed with me, and causes some consternation whenever I think I catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye, the trilogy itself is simply sublime. Magical, thought-provoking, heart- breaking and life- affirming, read it. Read it now!

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.