Tag Archives: ghosts

Book Reviews: Scream Vacation (The Raven Archives) by Dr. I. Seymour Youngblood (*****)

As is the usual preamble I received this book free in exchange for a review. Also as usual I’ll be completely honest despite that kind consideration.

The Amazon blurb describes the book this way:

Carter’s spring break is a total bust. His family was Orlando bound until his twin sisters, Maren & Macee, sabotaged his dream vacation with their dorky ghost-hunting obsession. Now, he’s stuck in some “haunted” backwoods cabin in the middle of nowhere all because his sister’s favorite show is filming there during spring break. But what Carter always made fun, his sister’s love of the supernatural, turns out to be no laughing matter on their SCREAM VACATION.

Firstly, this is a book aimed at youth so I give it a slightly different going over than I would an adult book. I look at three basic questions and the first of those is to ask if there’s anything inappropriate for the age group. It has been my sad duty to give many books for adolescents poor scores because they had sexual or drug content but in this case the book is clean as a whistle. There is some mild pre-teen rebellion but there’s nothing to be scared of if your kid brings this book home. There’s not even any violence to speak of.

The second thing I look for is rather the opposite of the first and that’s to find positive lessons or morals in a book. This book does reasonably well at that since the main character does come to understand his family a bit better and after all is said and done they’re a closer group than they started out. This doesn’t really seem to be the focus of the book but it’s there.

Lastly, I ask myself if the book is entertaining and in this case the book scores high marks. I’m an adult and I found it amusing so kids will probably devour it. It is, of course, rather simplistic and from an adult perspective nothing new but these are kids we’re talking about as the target audience and it will be right up their proverbial alley. I can see this series doing really well.

In summary, this is a real standout in the realm of independently published books. Aside from a very few editorial errors this is an exceptionally professional, responsible and entertaining book for the young people in your life. Highly recommended for kids that like to be scared but not too scared.

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Book Reviews: Dead of July (***)

As is usual, I received this book from the author in exchange for a review. Despite that kindness I give my absolutely candid opinions below.

The high-level summary of this book is pretty straightforward. Our main character finds herself in a new city and almost immediately embroiled in trouble just because she tried to help out a child in need. What ensues is a mixture of violence, suspense and the paranormal.

On the positive side, our author has taken great and obvious care with her work. Seldom has an independently published novel come across my desk that is so well edited and free of grammatical and spelling problems. Thompson also has a knack for creating characters that pop with realism; these are the sort of folks I’d like to invite out for a drink sometime. They are candid, real and well-formed almost as if the author knows them in real life. I also enjoyed the way the author wove the supernatural and mundane aspects of the world together. Yes, our protagonist has contact with the spirit world but it’s not the center of the story but put forth as a sometimes casual aside. This attitude lends a great deal of believability to the supernatural aspects of the story.

To the negative, I asked the author specifically what genre she was targeting because at times the book seems to drift between suspense and memoir. She replied that it was intended to be suspense and that didn’t surprise me but it did reveal that she has a fairly steep hill to climb from a writing standpoint. The novel is written in the first person and includes a wealth of very specific anecdotes that in no way add to the suspenseful aspects of the novel. That, coupled with the first-person point of view, tends to squash any attempts at really building tension from one page to the next. We know a lot about the character and we can relate to her. She’s very real to the raeder but it’s hard to build much suspense when the protagonist seems to spend so much time doing unrelated unsuspenseful things.

In summary, I like what the author’s done with this book and it has great potential but it does need some tightening up. As a reader we can see the action very vividly but the story does seem to lack the dark and grimy aspects necessary for a true suspense novel. I’d suggest that potential readers perhaps bookmark this author and wait for future installments when she has had a bit more of a chance to perfect her craft as I am confident she will. You may not be on the edge of your seat with this novel but you may well be with the next one.

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Book Reviews: Ghostly Tales: Poltergeists, Haunted Houses, and Messages from Beyond (*****)

As usual I paid nothing for this book but instead received it for free in exchange for a review. Despite NetGalley’s kindness I give my scrupulously honest opinions below.

This book is pretty simple. It’s just a collection of haunting tales. You could have guessed that by the title alone, I’m sure. But what it is NOT is any attempt to analyse or explain anything. It’s just straight-up campfire-grade spooky stories.

To the positive side, I give the author credit for just getting down to it. There is a bit of an introduction but not much and the stories just start right up without excessive preamble. Our tales of horror are divided into handy categories and were all sufficient to raise a bit of gooseflesh on me though I did prime things rather well by laying abed by myself in the dark before reading. It wasn’t enough to keep me up but it did keep me thinking.

To the negative, I’m not going to make any comments about whether you should believe any of these stories because, let’s face it, you’ll believe what you want to. However, these did seem to all fall along pretty common lines and you could place each story in some movie or some TV show of the past. I picked out a couple of Twilight Zone plots pretty easily and I’m sure most of these either have their roots in or have inspired some fictional retelling along the way. As I said, it’s up to your belief system which way that pendulum swings.

In summary, this is a nice, tidy collection of hair-raising tales that are either just nice stories or real-life accounts of encounters with the supernatural. Which is it? That’s your decision.

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The Bird Eater – A wonderful bit of horror. Free on Kindle Firsts this Month! (5/5)

As usual I received this book for free. This time it was from Kindle Firsts. I’m glad I did because it was a breathless four hours on the sofa.

To describe this book in a nutshell, it’s one of those wonderfully ambiguous horror novels that mystify you with their gruesomeness as you’re reading and leave you with a big question mark at the end. The novel is fairly gory in bits but not outrageously so and those with a passionate fixation for kindness towards birds would be well advised to steer clear because they are among the primary victims of unpleasantness.

To the positive side, this book strikes a good balance between inspiring horror and providing background. The first chapter is vivid, cruel and horrifying in the extreme but after it gets you hooked things do settle down into a more standard pace. The author is clearly very practiced and proficient at descriptions of things that most of us just don’t want to think about. I came away with some very clear mental pictures of this evil that are likely to haunt my dreams for a while.

The only negative I could really come up with is that while the over-arching story is fairly unique, some of the specific mechanisms that the author uses to get there are pretty standard. I can’t really mention… any of them… because I don’t want to spoil anything but I think you’ll know them when you see them. Despite this tiny, and I do mean tiny, negative, the effect of the author’s writing is still exceptionally strong.

In summary, this is one to curl up with when you have 4 hours to sit and blast through the whole thing in one go. I did it bright and early on a Saturday morning but the results in the middle of the night would be soul-shaking. Highly recommended for those who don’t mind a bit of gore and who don’t mind NOT having an iron-clad answer to the question of “So what exactly happened…?”

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Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

Bellman and BlackBellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this book not through actually purchasing it but because someone gave it to me for review. In this case the book came from a galley giveaway on ShelfAwareness. Despite that kind consideration I’m still not afraid to roast even a free book with a scathing review. Luckily in this case, no such conflagration is necessary.

Firstly, it should be noted that I religiously avoid reading the back jackets of books, so going into this one I had only the cover and the subtitle “A ghost story” to go on. Because of that I spent a fair amount of time looking for the literal ghost only to find that the ghosts that haunt William Bellman are of a completely different sort than one generally expects from children’s literature.

On the positive side of things, this book is a deliciously subtle story of one man’s haunted life. Setterfield weaves her story and her characters together with a sagacious and haunting assiduousness that pulls the reader gently along from one short chapter to the next. This is an acutely wrought novel with a tenacious grip on realism while still washing the entire scene in an afterglow of the supernatural. I’ve not read anything this well written in quite some time. Our author brings us a tale as unhurried and as natural as life itself.

The only real negative I can put forth is really more of a warning to potential readers. This is a great book but it’s likely not for everyone. For those accustomed to the pablum of easy modern literature, I suggest humbly that you look elsewhere. For those reading by the pool in the joyous light of day, perhaps your time is better spent between other pages. But if you find yourself in a darkened room listening to the rumble of far-away thunder, then this may be the book for just that setting. It is not a gripping thrill ride, but it does take you gently by the hand and pull you quietly into another world where the sky harbors a thousand watching eyes and time does not undo all wrongs nor heal all wrongs.

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Topper Takes a Trip – Thorne Smith [1932]

From my younger days as a much older person in a younger person’s body I had some familiarity with the old Topper movies though if the reading of this book is any judge of such things my concept of what the movies were actually ABOUT might be more than a tad askew of reality.

Cosmo Topper is an average American bank executive on holiday in the French Riveria. He’s utterly normal in his generally loose moral fibre and unexceptional in most ways that are worth noting except that he happens to be plagued by the most curious company in the form of four ghosts which haunt his every step and send him on no end of random misadventures. One of the phantom quartet is bent on using Topper solely to supply a good time. Another of the foursome is Cosmo’s mistress and she’s bent on killing him so that they need not be bound by their differing status in the afterlife. The other two simply seem to go in whichever way the wind blows them (as the wispy and non-corporeal are wont to do anyway.)

The most noteable thing about Smith’s novel, aside from its utterly bizarre and original concept (it spawned several movies) is the twisted and writhing manner in which he writes. I realize, of course, that such a phrase coming from me is, at the least, a bit shocking. I look at my own prolix prose and see tendrils that are convoluted far beyond easy human comprehension but Smith makes me look like a grunting Neanderthal by comparison. Smith’s long and sometimes fruitless journeys into metaphor, combined with his copious use of French terms that are unknown to me makes him a real chore to sift through. This combined with the unfamiliar vernacular of the 1930s makes this one a tough nut. That said, if you can grind his prose down to its meaning, you have a good nut, but my attitude going into this was of a book to be easily tossed off in a couple of nights. It came to span four and not without some fair amount of dread when it came time to sit down and read. As example I give you the early description of Cosmo Topper:

Topper, it is to be learned with some relief, was virginal more through circumstance than choice. This does not imply that his was a low and lecherous nature. Nor does it necessarily follow that he was epicurean in such matters. But he did like things nice that way. Most men do, when and if possible.

Topper had been a banker by profession. He still was a husband–an original error of judgement unrectified by time. Habit is a dreadful thing. Once he had commuted without realizing the error of his ways. Most men commute through necessity. Topper had done so ritualistically. In Glendale, USA, the Toppers had been socially solid. All that was changed, but not through Mrs. Topper.

I’ll admit that even after having read the entire book and that exact passage several times, I’m still not EXACTLY sure I understand what he’s saying. At any rate, to the studious and focused reader, this book would no doubt be at least a small riot. Smith’s verbal wit is good though would have benefited from anything even remotely approaching a plot. Like an episode of The Stooges, one is left with the idea that something odd might have happened (one falls short of using the word ‘funny’) but without a common thread to bind events together the result is a handful of milkweed fluff. If nothing else, I suppose, I was amused to hear again the phrase “mon petit chou.” One can never have enough cabbage in one’s life.


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Catch that Martian – Damon Knight [1952]

Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1952

First Published in Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1952

The story finds us in New York City and to the horror of the populous, the population is falling at an alarming rate. You may well wonder which standard scifi methodology is in play here. Plague? Nope. Mass murdering robots? Nope again. Delicatessens have moved to serving human flesh? Um, no. That’s just sick. What ARE you thinking anyway? Nope, it’s Martians and they’re willing to go to any ends necessary to make damn sure they can watch all the latest movies without interruption from pesky humans.

Some fiction you can see is clearly born out of a dream, like a Lovecraft horror story. Some is born out of fear of the unknown, like every apocalyptic tale of human doom. In this case, the story is born out of someone’s deep misanthropic desire to wish all his fellow New Yorkers ‘into the cornfield.’

Officer Dunlop is with the NYPD and a few days ago people started disappearing. Well, they mostly disappeared. To use a trite turn of a phrase, they turned into ghosts. One minute they’re sitting there in the theatre picking their noses and the next minute they’re ghostly remnants of themselves unable to touch or interact with the world that was so recently their home. One hopes they were at least able to continue picking their noses. At first this is a strange curiosity thrust upon the attentions of the denizens of the city but as the days go by the streets become crowded with these misty apparitions. People are vanishing by the thousands. Dunlop is determined to find out why.

He has a deep and almost entirely unfounded suspicion that whoever’s causing this city ghostification (to coin an only slightly less trite phrase), it must be a Martian. Who else, he reasons, could possibly have such powers? After pulling the threads together from the increasing hoards of witnesses he determines that all the people who were so afflicted had very recently done something annoying in public such as having a fit of coughing during a movie or stepping on someone’s toes on the subway. Our stalwart officer takes time off his beat to solve the mystery on his own by staking out movie theatres and sitting through large numbers of matinees. Despite the sheer numbers of theatres in the city, he quickly manages to witness the despicable act in progress. Unfortunately, as he moves to apprehend the Martians he disturbs the movie they’re watching and ends up zapped into the alternate ghostly dimension along with the other victims. Now our sad hero is trapped as a spirit with all the most annoying people in the city with no hope of escape. He does, at least, have the hope that the cute waitress from his favorite coffee shop may someday join him.

While this author will admit heartily that Mr. Knight’s story is… well, unique, I would say with little uncertainty that its most redeeming quality is the fact that our author has chosen this fairly innocuous manner in which to seek revenge on the population of humanity rather than that of engineering a plague or a robotic army. Often times the value of a thing is measured by what it prevents rather than what it actually accomplishes. We at The Tattered Thread hope that Mr. Knight feels better after his little exposition of misanthropy.

Note: Knight was also the author of the classic “To Serve Man” which is one of the greatest stories of the genre but does little to reassure us about his opinion of the human race.


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