Spooky Halloween Reading from Haunted Nights



During past RIP Challenges, I've read anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow. These collections are always an excellent choice for the season. Haunted Nights is no exception.

Haunted Nights edited by Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton features stories that take place on Halloween. Halloween is a night where anything can happen. Jack O'Lantern attempts to find new victims in two stories: Jack and Wicks's End. Teens regret trying to vandalize an abandoned mansion in With Graveyard Weeds and Wolfbane Seeds. Humans celebrate strange traditions in Nos Galan Gaeaf. And monsters come to life in The Seventeen-Year Itch.

There are tales from the point of view of both the supernatural and just ordinary people. Some are of Halloweens past (All Through the Night) and the future (The First Lunar Halloween). Some are heartbreakingly sad and others a little bit funny, but most are firmly in the creepy camp. There are some authors you might recognize contributing to this anthology, including Kelley Armstrong.

One of my favorites from this collection is also the longest, Lost in the Dark by Jack Langan. It's a little bit Blair Witch, a little bit Ringu. It's a story that has the potential to be a full novel. I was left wanting to know more about the mysterious events that lead to the making of the (fictional) movie Lost in the Dark.

Haunted Nights has a little something for everyone. It's definitely a good collection to read on a dark and dreary Halloween. And that cover is just perfect.

Other Ellen Datlow books reviewed:
The Doll Collection
Supernatural Noir 


Getting Gothic with The Silent Companions



Elsie finds herself in an asylum, injured and drugged, unwilling to remember the events of the past several months. She knows something bad has happened, the word "murderess" is hissed at her by the orderlies. With the prompting of her kind doctor, Elsie begins to piece together what happened in the hopes it will free her.

Months earlier...

Her life is turned upside down after the death of her husband Rupert. Just recently married, the couple was excited to learn Elsie was pregnant. Then Rupert dies under mysterious circumstances and Elsie is forced to live on his family's 200 year old estate, The Bridge, with Rupert's only relative, cousin Sarah. Elsie finds a neglected mansion with a tiny staff of three women, the villagers of the nearby town having refused to work there. At first she is unhappy about the lack of creature comforts, but soon her unhappiness turns to fear after she finds a life sized wooden figure that looks disturbingly like herself. This figure, known as a silent companion, is creepy on its own but it also seems to pop up in unexpected places. And then more begin to appear.

Is someone playing a trick on Elsie? Is she losing her mind? Or is there something evil living within the walls of The Bridge?

If I could read more books like The Silent Companion, I'd be a regular blogger again. I read it over the weekend. I don't think I've read a book that fast in years! It was delightfully creepy. I couldn't stop reading. I had to know what was going on. The novel has all the hallmarks of a gothic novel: spooky house, scary noises, creepy relatives, an asylum, and damsels in distress.

It's the last on this list that Laura Purcell takes a real poke at. There are five women living at The Bridge, all very different. Men aren't experiencing what they are going through. These women are depending on each other to find explanations for their experiences. When men do get involved, they dismiss their fears. The word "hysterical" is tossed around. Elsie's fate is forever in a man's hands: her husband who dies, her younger brother who sticks her at The Bridge, and eventually her doctor who can either free her or condemn her. Unlike the classic gothic novels of centuries past, there isn't a Prince Charming to swoop in and save her. Can she save herself under these circumstances?

Would I recommend The Silent Companions? Absolutely! It's sure to keep you up at night, whether to finish it or for fear of hearing a strange hissing sound, like wood scraping against wood. It's perfect for RIP XIII.

Oh and silent companions are a real thing. Maybe not as creepy as ventriloquist dummies but still pretty creepy!

Better Late Than Never: RIP 13



Wow, it's been awhile, huh?

Since I never miss a Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge, I'm jumping in. This time I plan on doing Peril the Short Story. I'm always up for a good spooky story this time of year.

I'm thinking of a little MR James and a little Edith Wharton. They're always good old fashioned scares.

Hopefully I'll leave my thoughts on those stories here before October 31. Bye!


Frankenstein Readalong: Last Post, Better Late Than Never

I'm a bit late writing my last Frankenstein Readalong post, but here it is. I finished!

Victor has been working on Monster #2 for almost a year when he finally realizes that the lady might have a mind of her own and not want to be slave to Monster #1. Also, what if they have babies? (Doesn't Victor have the power to prevent this??) The creature pokes his head in to see how things are going. Victor flips out and destroys Monster #2 before she can have agency and peace out of this place. The creature gives this warning: "I will be with you on your wedding night." Victor, a supposed genius, after tearing apart the creature's future wife right in front of him, comes to the conclusion that the creature will murder HIM on his wedding night.

We need you, Captain Obvious
Having nothing else to do, Victor rows to the mainland. The sea is rough and he thinks he might die. We aren't that lucky. He makes it to shore only to learn that Clerval has been murdered and for some reason he is the main suspect. He does what he always does under stress and gets the brain fever.  However, being a rich white dude sometimes has it's advantages. The magistrate not only sends for Victor's dad but gathers witnesses that place him on the island at the time of the murder. So once again other people solve Victor's problems.

Now Victor can't wait to get married. He believes once that happens, he and the creature will have a battle to the death. He acts all weird and freaked out and not at all like a normal groom. Elizabeth is worried and finally asks him what is going on. And, oh my god, this is what he tells her. "I will confide this tale of misery and terror to you THE DAY AFTER OUR MARRIAGE SHOULD TAKE PLACE." What a chicken shit. Tell her now so she can decide whether or not to marry your sorry ass.

No words
No one tries to put an end to this wedding Jane Eyre style so they get married and it seems like the most miserable wedding day ever. They go off on their honeymoon, but that night Victor makes Elizabeth go to the bedroom alone. Guess what happens? You'll never guess. It was so surprising. Yeah. Elizabeth is murdered by the creature.

Victor shares the bad news with his dad and Ernest. His dad has a stroke and dies. I guess no one cares about Ernest, because he's never mentioned again. Finally, Victor tells his tale to the local magistrate, who actually believes him, but he's like "shrug, what can you do?"

That's when Victor chases the creature northward, the creature sometimes writing long paragraphs of encouragement on the bark of trees (????). He finally leads Victor to the arctic and to the present time in the story.

How does this story end? Victor is dying and confides to Walton that he shouldn't have made the monster but since he did it was his responsibility to destroy him. No duh. He also sort of hints that Walton should do it. Victor dies and the creature sneaks onto the boat to cry over him. Walton confronts him. The creature says he feels really bad about killing all those people, but it had to be done because everyone was so mean to him.

Use your words, Creature

I know I sound harsh here, but I do feel bad for the creature to some extent. He shouldn't have been created. That wasn't his doing. Victor was a terrible, gutless creator who abandoned him. He definitely shouldn't have done that either. But the creature wasn't a mindless killing machine. He knew what he was doing was wrong, but still he did it. Between the two of them there was a battle of who is in more pain. As a result, a lot of innocent people died. There is no hero here. They are both the worst.

In the end, the creature tells Walton he will throw himself into a fire to end his own misery. Walton is forced to return to England having never reached the North Pole.

I did enjoy rereading Frankenstein. It's strange reading it at this point in time, where there are people who identify with the creature too much. I first read it in the early 1990s and the world was different, I was different. It's always so interesting to read a book at different times in your life. I highly recommend doing that. There were issues with the writing I never noticed then but I still think Mary Shelley is amazing. She gave us a monster for the ages.

Thanks, Mary
And thanks Jenny for hosting this Frankenstein Readalong! I'm glad I did it.

Frankenstein Readalong: Everyone Is a Monster #TralaFrankenstein

Okay, we're into the third installment of Frankenstein. Let's see what nonsense Victor comes up with this week.

Can Anybody Find Me Somebody To Love?

The creature continues his lurking in the lean to. We have a brief interlude where Safie's Story is told which is blah-blah-blah who cares. The family does seem to be getting wealthier so I guess she brought some money with her. The creature has created this whole fantasy where he and this family will live happily ever after even though he's been creeping on them for over a year and they haven't met him.

He hatches a plan, which is basically wait until the old man is alone and strike up a friendship with him. He seizes his opportunity when the adult kids all leave. He knocks on the door and asks to come in and I swear this is what pretty much what the old man says, "Well, I'm a blind old man alone and unprotected, sure come on in, stranger!"


They have a real awkward conversation where the creature hints that he wants to live with friends who live "near here." The old man must have been like, what is with this creepy guy. Then the kids come home and everyone freaks out. The creature grabs the old guy and is like, "Hey, I just met you and this is crazy but please love me!" Felix beats him with a stick and the creature runs away.

He wanders into the woods but later comes back and burns their house down. (Don't worry, they moved out minutes after he left.) Somehow all of Frankenstein's science notes are in the pocket of a coat the creature took when he left the loft. I guess a naked monster is too much to imagine in 1818. He knows that Frankenstein is from Geneva so he goes there.

He has some more terrible interactions with people but decides that kidnapping a child to raise as his own is a great idea. And who is that child? Little William. But turns out kids can also be jerks! While Will is calling the creature all kinds of names, he drops his family name as some kind of threat and that's it for William. Then the creature puts the necklace in Justine's pocket while she sleeps just for kicks.

So, what is the point of all this storytelling? The creature tells Victor that if he makes a lady monster for him that they'll disappear together and never be seen again. If Victor doesn't, he'll kill everyone he loves and destroy his life. The creature's reasoning is that he'd be a good person is he had a companion, has to be a lady though, not a golden lab or a hedgehog, definitely a lady. If he doesn't get a woman, he's going to have his revenge on all of humanity. Wow, that narrative just never went away, did it?



There is a lot of wrong here. Frankenstein was wrong to create the creature and to have abandoned him. Maybe he could have made things at least a little right by becoming his friend now but that ship has sailed. You can't really come back from killing a dude's baby brother. Then there's the lady monster plan. I feel bad for the future lady. She could take one look at him and think "I don't care what I look like I'm not going anywhere with this guy!" No one thinks about her feelings. It's either the creature thinking of his own or Frankenstein thinking of his. Which is not surprising, but I thought maybe Mary Shelley might at least spare a sentence for her.

On the Road Again

Victor spends some time lying in the bottoms of boats, Anne Shirley style, moping. His Dad wonders if it's because he doesn't want to marry Elizabeth. But no he totally loves his cousin-sister. He just needs a couple of years to travel and sow his wild oats or whatever. If I was Elizabeth, I'd be thinking about getting a new man right about now. Elizabeth, however, is ever patient and only sighs that she wishes she could do the same. (Oh Elizabeth, you need an Eat, Pray, Love vacation.)

Elizabeth, everyday
Victor feels bad that he's not telling his family to keep an eye out for a vindictive monster while he's gone but oh well. He and his bud Clerval fart around Europe for at least a year. Victor says he's collecting information for his experiment but these guys are basically playing tourist. Finally, Victor gets himself to the Orkney Islands, finds a hut, and grudgingly gets to work.

What will happen next? Will he create the lady monster? How did Victor end up in the arctic anyway? Will Arctic Explorer Guy finally realize this dude is bad news?

Frankenstein Readalong, Part Two: Consequences?

In Part Two of the Frankenstein Readalong, Victor faces the consequences...sort of, more like other people suffer consequences for him and then he feels bad about it. 

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

In one moment Victor's life gets turned upside down. A letter from home arrives. It's from his Dad. Little brother William is dead. Murdered! It seems someone killed him for a necklace he wore. Victor heads home but not directly, he has to stare off into the distance at mountains and lakes first. 
Sad mountain staring

It's then that he sees his creation climbing up some cliffs. Instantly he believes the creature is the murderer. Okay...maybe, but why would he think this? I see this as some kind of transference of guilt for totally abandoning his creation to the world. He hasn't actually spoken to him, so he doesn't know anything about how he turned out. He just assumes he must be terrible. (Because you're terrible, Victor?)

When Victor gets home he learns that they've already found the murderer, that girl Elizabeth couldn't say enough good things about in her letter, Justine. (Told you she would be important). She was found acting suspiciously and with the necklace in her pocket. Poor Justine goes to trial and everything hinges on whether or not enough people tell the court what a nice girl she is. They don't and Justine is sentenced to death. Also she ends up confessing. 

Elizabeth wants to know why and visits Justine in jail. It turns out Justine was badgered into a confession by her Confessor who told her she would go to hell if she didn't. Great job, guy. Meanwhile, Victor just gnashes his teeth in the corner. He does a lot of this. Do people really gnash their teeth in real life? 

I'm imagining this

He says he can't do anything about all this because if he told the truth everyone would think he's crazy. Sure, but do something? He's from a prominent family. Bribe someone. Stand up and say, "I'm a doctor and although I have no idea who did this, Justine couldn't because of her tiny hands." He's done nothing and it's just not working. Also, he makes Justine's situation all about him. "The poor victim, who on the morrow was to pass the dreary boundary between life and death, felt not as I did, such deep and bitter agony."


So Justine dies. Victor sits around feeling sorry for himself. His Dad makes the family go off to the mountains to get away from it all. There Victor is confronted by his creation.

A Story Within a Story

The creature (let's call him that for now) wants to talk. Trying to talk to Victor after killing his brother seems like a bad idea. "Hey, let's talk before things get really out of hand." He's surprisingly well spoken. Lots of thees and thines. At first, Victor doesn't want to hear it, but curiosity gets the better of him. 

The creature begins his story. It's a story within a story within a letter. Very Inception. Anyway, at first the creature hides in the woods and quickly learns a few things: 1) people freak out when they see him, and 2) FIRE BURNS! (ok, he doesn't say this). He takes shelter in a wood shed/ lean-to next to a cottage of a family of three, a father and two grown children, Agatha and Felix. 

The family is very poor but also quite genteel and kind. This is good for the creature; who better to learn from? He keeps hidden from them and creeps on them, but also tries to help them out. One day a beautiful girl shows up. Felix calls her his Arabian. Her name is actually Safie. The family starts teaching her their language, both written and spoken. The creature wants to learn that too, how convenient! Everyone is happy even though they have another mouth to feed and no extra money, assuming that Safie doesn't have the ability to spin straw into gold. The more the creature learns and understands, the more he questions. He gets very existential. Who am I? Where did I come from? 

Yes, indeed, where? I guess he'll figure that out in Part Three since he's talking to Victor. 

Frankenstein Readalong: Part One, Letters for Margaret



It begins! The Frankenstein Readalong. The week's installment takes us through Volume 1, Chapter 5. I am reading the original 1818 version. According to the note from the editor of my book, the 1831 "includes significant departures" from the 1818. The 1831 version was edited by Percy B Shelley. There are people (*cough* men) who claim he wrote the whole thing. *


Anyway...

We start with the Preface. Mary Shelley tells us of the circumstances which lead to her creating Frankenstein. She, Percy, Byron, and friends were stuck indoors because of the weather. She didn't know this but the summer of 1816 was a bad one because of the eruption of Mount Tambora resulting in a volcanic winter. With nothing else to do, the group started telling ghost stories and then it was suggested that Mary, Percy, and Byron have a competition to write their own spooky story. Of course, when the weather turned pleasant, the dudes forgot all about their stories to go hiking or hunting or something. Mary finished hers. (Like a boss!) And created a whole new genre.

Bow down

Volume One: Letters From the Arctic

The book proper begins with letters from an Arctic explorer guy to his sister, Margaret. He is trying to get to the North Pole. He believes that it's a tropical paradise there because the sun never sets. That's...a Theory. He's complaining that no one understands him and he has no real friends because all the sailors around him are too uncouth, and dumb, and ugh, gross.

But, wait! Something exciting happens. While stuck in some ice, the crew sees a sledge being driven by "a being which had the shape of a man, but apparently of gigantic stature." The man carries on his merry way and soon after the ice breaks up. The next day, another sledge and rider shows up, this time it's just some regular guy who's emaciated and starving. It seems he's in pursuit of the first sledge but he's too weak to keep going. The sailors drag him onboard and it doesn't take the letter writer long to find in him a Kindred Spirit. He says "I begin to love him as a brother...He must have been a noble creature in his better days..." He's known this guy, who won't tell him anything about himself, for a few weeks maybe and he likes that he has nice manners. Yeah, some serial killers have nice manners too, dude! You are going to wake up one morning with a kidney missing.

Finally, the Stranger, as he's been referred to in the letters, decides he'll share his story with the explorer. He gives some ominous and vague learn-from-my-mistakes warnings.

Chapter One Through Five: Picture It! 



You know someone is going to tell you a long story when the starting point is before they were even born. Victor (we find out his first name it this part) is from a very prominent Swiss family. His dad married his dead friend's daughter, not sure if it's out of obligation or love, and they had a bunch of kids. They also adopt the dad's niece, Elizabeth. Even though, they are just babies, Victor's mom is all, "Oh, you guys are going to be maaaaaaaarrrried someday!" for some reason.

Victor had a very Montessori education and was allowed to study whatever he wanted, including some weird stuff. However, his dad sees him reading Cornelius Agrippa (a magician, kinda? Dunno.) and calls it "sad trash." Being a teenager, this just makes Victor want to read more like this. If his dad dismisses it, it must be good!

When Victor is seventeen, it's decided he'll go to university. But first, his mom dies, and the last thing his mom says to him and Elizabeth is "No, really guys, you're going to get maaaaaaaarrrried!" Okay, they've been living together like siblings since they were little ones. How weird must that be?! Anyway, Elizabeth is sweet and wonderful and all that jazz.

Victor loves university. It's his jam. He's there for two years without even going home for the holidays. He becomes obsessed with what we would call Biology and the "causes of life." He even starts hanging around "vaults and charnel houses." And then, BAM! "I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter." That was easy. He doesn't share the secret because it's too dangerous and this is a pretty great work around for Shelley who doesn't have to get into the details. He does tell Arctic guy that he put his knowledge to use and started building a giant man.

You know it, girl!

He works in his loft apartment all summer long. (I wonder how he explained the smell to his landlord.) He stops writing home, but receives letters from his dad along the lines of "I guess you're TOO BUSY to even write to us here. Hope you aren't drinking and gambling away the family fortune."

Finally in November, his creation comes to life!

Yeah, he doesn't do this
The giant man creature just blinks and Victor has instant regret. He does the sensible thing when staring into the face of consequences, he ignores it. He tries to take a nap and then walks around the city. Good plan, Victor, way to think things through.

He realizes he has to go home eventually and heads there, when he meets his old friend Clerval, who came to check up on him. Victor checks on his apartment but the monster is gone. Then he has a break down and is bedridden for months.

Spring arrives and Victor is feeling better. Clerval tries to lift his spirits. He encourages him to write home and luckily there is a letter just arrived from Elizabeth. Elizabeth gives us the whole history of some girl she knows named Justine, so you know that will be important later, and also some blah-blah about everyone else at home.

Victor is feeling hopeful and happy. He's all 'life is freaking fantastic' so the shit is about to hit the fan, for sure.

Victor right now

And that's where we end. Will Victor see his creation again? Will he marry his cousin-sister? Will Arctic guy confess his undying love to Victor?

*Even the ones who are all "Well, he most definitely helped her write it because she was just a dumb teenaged girl, with genius parents yeah okay, but just A GIRL" annoy me. Let's count all the male authors who had help from their wives who never got credit. Oh wait, we don't talk about that. They wrote all of those books by themselves. Ugh.