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“Only the ghosts in this house are glad we’re here.”

34. October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween – Richard Chizmar & Robert Morrish, eds.

October is one of the months that I always wish I could take entirely off my day job – at least, pre-climate change. Now it usually has a crappy hot week and some not really all that fallesque weeks and way less of what I expect – not enough crisp air and insect and plant death to make my allergies just a bit easier to manage. Also, it should come as no surprise that Halloween is my favorite holiday. I may have even mentioned that before on here. I’m not sure, but it’s still my favorite holiday.

It’s also the month when I adopted Horace, the heart of my herd and the sweetest guinea pig. He was so excited to find out there were other guinea pigs in my house when I brought him home that he didn’t stop vocalizing for half an hour. It was the best. Although I did not get him on Halloween, it was close, October 24th, and so essentially, adopting him is one of my favorite Halloween-adjacent memories.

October Dreams has an interesting structure. It goes back and forth between short stories and “My Favorite Halloween Memory” segments from horror authors. Some of the memories are better than the stories as they truly give a picture of Halloween and they really break up the experience of reading this 660 page long collection. I’m not going to discuss them further beyond saying that they are the full size Snickers of the reading experience.

You could say that Horace is the full size Snickers of guinea pigs. He was a big pig and incredibly sweet.

Dean Koontz – “The Black Pumpkin” – Once again I found myself really enjoying the work of Dean Koontz. A kid buys a super gnarly pumpkin from a super gnarly man despite his reservations and because of some taunting from his jackass brother; and it, well, had the exact ending I expected.

Poppy Z. Brite – “Lantern Marsh” – Before the immense life changes, and really, still after, you could always count on the swampy and mysterious to work their way into a Brite story. This is no exception and plays a little off the weirdness of coming home and reacting to how your hometown doesn’t stay frozen just because you left.

Thomas Ligotti – “Conversations in a Dead Language” – An off-kilter selection covering the ins and outs of handing out candy.

Thomas F. Monteleone – “Yesterday’s Child” – This one had great atmosphere and some creepery to go with.

Peregrine is creeping up on Horace who thinks he’s creeping up on that pumpkin. This herd can handle some creepery.

Simon Clark – “The Whitby Experience” – A vacation gone wrong in the best way. Misty…confusing…pizza gets burned – they’re going to have a bad time.

Ray Bradbury – “In-Between, A Halloween Poem” – It’s a poem. I’m fine with poems. Poems about Halloween are fine.

Jack Ketchum – “Gone” – Sometimes it seems like letting strangers knock on your door for candy really is opening yourself up to psychological punishment. Especially if you’ve lost a child that you’ll never see through the opposite end of the experiment.

Gahan Wilson – “Yesterday’s Witch” – This was just cute.

Paula Guran – “A Short History of Halloween” – Non-fiction interlude! I appreciated this because, to a librarian, there are no celebrations of anything without helpful, verified information.

Horace runs from my nerdery. He did not want to know the illustrious history of pumpkin photoshoots.

John Shirley – “Mask Game” – Family conflicts played out without those helpful puppets you see in movies with family counseling scenes sometimes. The classic example being What About Bob? This story also reminded me of all those times on Supernatural when young people inadvertently summoned old gods or goddesses.

David B. Silva – “Out of the Dark” – It’s always good to be nice to that immortal entity you trapped in a trunk.

Ray Bradbury – “Heavy Set” – I did not expect this kind of a story from Ray Bradbury, I really don’t associate him with assholes who lift weights in their mom’s yard.

Richard Laymon – “Boo” – An interesting twist on the “Bet you can’t go up on the creepy porch” story. He added stalking.

Douglas E. Winter – “Masks” – My strongest anxious memories are about waiting. So this story was very effective for me.

Horace is waiting for me to stop taking pictures so he doesn’t have to establish a new residence atop this pumpkin.

Caitlin R. Kiernan – “A Redress for Andromeda” – I read this story previously in a different collection of hers and I have to say it’s a bit more to my taste than most of her work. A little more plot and less reliance on atmosphere to carry everything.

Lewis Shiner – “The Circle” – One hell of a time travel tale. It also involved those super awkward feelings that happen when you tried to get all your friends to like your new boyfriend and he sucked and then you broke up. Tail between legs.

Gary A. Braunbeck – ” ‘First of All, It Was October…’ An Overview of Halloween Films” – Non-fiction interlude two! This was a great list. But I do not agree about Ernest Scared Stupid. I was in fact scared stupid by that movie. Some of us are scared of trolls. And rolling over to find one in your bed is just well, let’s just say it kept me up at night for years, despite the overall stupidity of the whole enterprise.

This one time I made Horace come with me to investigate whether or not something else that scared me stupid was still in the basement. It was. Horace was a valiant pig, he totally helped me be less terrified.

Tim Lebbon – “Pay the Ghost” – Very reminiscent of True Crime. Loss, weird journeys, pits full of dead things.

F. Paul Wilson – “Buckets” – One time I was grading this beginner college course on philosophy. It actually didn’t really fit my idea of “philosophy,” but anyway, one assignment was an argumentative paper. A student turned in a paper full of the images that anti-abortion zealots use on their posters, images of bloody fetuses and about one page saying she wasn’t a fan of abortion in the least objective terms possible. That was a fail and from my perspective, so was this story.

Stephen Mark Rainey – “Orchestra” – This was an unexpectedly clever story. It was interesting to see old dude pro musicians as the protagonists and it does not have a nice ending.

Charles L. Grant – “Eyes” – Another disturbing story. Damn, dude. The things some people do for their kids.

Horace and Peregrine took a long time to be proper friends. Horace would’ve done a lot for her, including endure many sharp nips until she let him skritch her chin with his face.

Dominick Cancilla – “Deathmask” – Super creepy teenager and mom paranoia story. I really enjoyed this one.

Michael Marshall Smith – “Some Witch’s Bed” – “He will never forget her” – you’re damn right.

Ramsey Campbell – “The Trick” – Not a very nice story at all. There’s a dog involved, just a warning for those of you who want to be warned about that sort of thing.

Peter Straub – “Porkpie Hat” – So, I have to admit that whenever anyone mentions jazz I immediately think of white middle aged men snapping their fingers and trying to seem cool in record stores. I also think “Just play the right notes!” and I can’t even remember where that quote came from anymore. However, Straub managed to suck me in by saying Hat, the main character, was from Mississippi. Fine. We’ll see what you do with it, man. We’ll see. Of course, this is a Mississippi I do not know, one that feels closer in kin to Joe Lansdale’s East Texas than my Hattiesburg, I’m also, like, way younger than the characters, so, that has an effect. Anyway, it was a really solid, image-invoking, page turner of a story. Thankfully, not too much jazz description had to be endured.

Horace had his MA in telling stories to ladypigs.

Stefan Dziemianowicz – “Trick-or-Read, A Reader’s Guide to Halloween Fiction” – Non-fiction informational interlude number three! SO helpful. I loved this list because it allowed me to check things off and to find new books.

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“Thou art to be hanged and then burned over a basket of living cats.” (Warlock)

34. Witchfinder General: The Biography of Matthew Hopkins – Craig Cabell

It took me a very long time to finish this because it includes full representations of pamphlets from the time period which are extremely hard to get through. So little punctuation, so many block paragraphs…I will be forever grateful for the invention of indentation. One of those pamphlets, the short one, is by the subject, who is listed in the Dramatis Personae (yep, that’s how he put it) as “Matthew Hopkins, Son of James Hopkins: shipping clerk and witchfinder.” Nice dig, Cabell.

The longest pamphlet is by Hopkins’ assistant John Stearne and it is all about teats. Seriously. Teats- it could have a protrusion, but it could not have too much of one, or there could be a dark circle in it or a pinprick, but it might not be too obvious because they can like suck them back in after their Imps suck blood out of them and it might have a darker circle around it and it could be anywhere – anywhere – on their body. His pamphlet was endless and the reason why I put the book down for months at a time. All block paragraphs, half-teat coverage, half half-assed justification and confessions. He’s like the toady of the head dickface who wants you to think he’s a nice guy (TM) while he cops a feel checking for “teats.” If fedoras had existed in that time, he’d have been wearing one. Matthew was wearing the most ostentatious hat, after all, like Mystery on the Pick Up Artist reality show formerly on VH1.

The weirdest element of the witchfinder situation to me is that he only worked for a few years – 1645-7 – and he “sent over 200 people, mainly women, to their death for the crime of witchcraft.” That’s a hell of an impact. By the way, only one was burned. One. Her name was Mary Lakeland, of Ipswich, and apparently she was also a Royalist agent.

He also died at age 28, of consumption, which is the most inaccurate part of the film starring Vincent Price. Apparently the whole depiction of “accusation, torture, and forced confession” is pretty accurate; also, the film was shot in the original locations. It definitely added more authority to have Vincent Price as opposed to your average peacocking 26 year old “wallowing in his own self-glorification” for a fee. Thankfully he did get to experience at least one of his own torture methods before he died – the “swim test,” he was proven to be a witch based on his own ideas about water and witches. Why there’s no statue of him in his home town that’s just labeled “Total dick” for people to spit on I will never know. It might help future generations as we go backward through time morally.

Yes, Pere and Merri, we would all be hanged as witches if we lived then…fun. Hopefully before we had to hear a witchfinder say the word “fleshie,” which was an overused teat-description in the pamphlets.

 

Salem’s version is a lot cuter and maybe more sassy too.

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Cult cookies.

7. Waking the Witch – Kelley Armstrong

I read the Otherworld series in a very random order, and this was the first witch-focused book I read. I didn’t know Savannah’s back-story from Stolen and I definitely recommend reading that before reading this one. It would’ve been nice to have some frame of reference for how Armstrong deals with witchcraft before reading Waking the Witch. Armstrong has a lot of characters in her Otherworld series, so even the minimal summaries left me a little lost because I hadn’t at least read Stolen. I can also tell you that my “review” of Stolen will not help you. No it won’t.

Savannah is a likeable protagonist and she’s headstrong but manages to be fun to follow along with as she tries to solve some witchcraft-adjacent murders in a small town. She has good investigative skills (and now I know how she learned them, now, so much later) but still acts like the twenty-one-year-old she’s supposed to be and that was an improvement over Armstrong’s YA work for me, where it felt like she was consistently talking down to the audience. So now I know she can represent slightly-above-youth youths without being patronizing.

Ozma: Plucky, ready for action. Peregrine: Sleepy, ready to send Ozma into the fray.

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“Is that a guy following us with a knife? Maybe it’s a chupacabra.” (Kyle Kinane)

83. Tales of the Otherworld – Kelley Armstrong

In the introduction to this collection, Armstrong mentions that although she put these stories up on her website for free essentially as a thank you to her readers, they were still consistently pursuing her to publish them traditionally…which is one fun aspect of the great ebook debate. Currently at the university I work for, they mention repeatedly that the ebooks they’ve bought are being used. In the department I work for, if you let a patron know we already own a book in eform, they send you an email saying they want a copy they can hold in their hands. It’s an ouroboros. Armstrong’s solution to feeling like she had to sell something she was trying to give away on purpose was to make it a charitable endeavor and to add a new story – a lovely compromise. Tales is the second volume of previously free tales and although the other collection dealt exclusively with the male werewolves in her oeuvre, this volume still deals with some of werewolves, thankfully.

My “reward” for my readers involves these adorable photos of my guinea pigs. Look how free and adorable Ozma is. Freely enjoy

“Bewitched” – After Elena, my second favorite character of Armstrong’s Otherworld is Eve Levine. She’s a witch, so my favor surprised me because I really enjoy her werewolf stories more than any others, but she’s an ornery witch. “Bewitched” is the new, non-already free story in this collection and it’s about her relationship with Kristof Nast, the before-time of Savannah’s story. Yay!

“Birthright” – Logan’s introduction to his pack, of course, he didn’t even know he was a werewolf…oh, those absentee dads. He comes to Stonehaven and tells Clay he looks like he’s in a frat. I like Logan, he was much more levelheaded than some of the other wolves and so it’s nice to get a few more snippets of his character.

Ozma is pretty sure her birthright involves not being stuck on a couch with Horace and Peregrine. She’s not wrong.

“Beginnings” – I thought this was also the title of that two part Buffy finale where she has sex with Angel and he goes evil-Angelus. That’s “Becomings,” but in Googling to double check myself, I found that there’s some Buffy fan-fiction called “Beginnings;” I forget about fan-fiction sometimes… Moving on, it would have been a nice coincidence that both this story of Elena and Clay meeting and Buffy and Angel falling apart would be called the same thing, but they’re not, so… Moving on again. Elena struggling for money in college and being underestimated and antagonized by Clay at first is quite fun to read. It also really grounds Clay in his anthropological background, which always seems like it might be a put-on when reading some of the books. It’s there, mentioned randomly, but as someone who has studied both art and anthropology sometimes it feels like when they make Tara Reid a scientist in a horror movie. The words are there, but do they understand them? Having Clay act like that toward Elena proved to me that he is a solid visiting faculty member at a university. Throw in a scene of finding a book they said they lost a year ago in their office and calling the library to ask that they be reimbursed for the bill and it would be complete.

“Just bring your books back, Finny!” Ozma, as a librarian.

“Wedding Bell Hell” – Paige and Lucas get married. It’s like a reunion of all kinds of fun characters and a little mixed up but positive and that’s how Paige always seems to me anyway.

“The Case of El Chupacabra” – I never really expected Armstrong to branch into mentioning Chupacabras. Ever. They seem far too far south for her Canadian characters, but then again, there’s some stories in Miami, but it’s still weird to see Mexican goat suckers involved in one of her stories. I mean, it’s not really there, but, still. Weird. This one is a case for Paige and Lucas and of course gets in to all the Cortez Cabal intrigue and those aspects of the Otherworld have always bored me. I’m just not super into corporate/mobster/overly powerful dudes in suits doing shitty things or Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate-ing. I would’ve been happier if a real Chupacabra was in charge, which is why I keep capitalizing that word when I don’t think I need to.

Ozma escapes the plastic alligator skull, the closest thing I have to a chupacabra.

 

 

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If only we could do something about those wacky billionaires.

46. Stolen – Kelley Armstrong

Adding witches, vampires, demons, a mad scientist, and a sadistic billionaire to her urban fantasy (but this one’s mainly set in an isolated compound) series may have seemed like a good idea at the time for Kelley Armstrong. Second book in the series, throw in everything. And in fact, the Otherworld books are usually fun to read regardless of how many types of supernatural characters have been thrown in – besides, Charlaine Harris did the same thing and it happened on Buffy and Monster Squad and there are so many, many more. If one supernatural thing is real, they all must be! Here’s a kitchen sink for your trouble! It does get tiresome having to learn everyone’s powers over and over – oh you’re not all demon, you’re just half demon and a jerk- okay. On something else, you’d be super tortured and whining about not being able to find love or something…

In the context of Stolen, which came directly after Bitten – a novel dealing entirely with werewolves – it’s quite the expansion on what I thought was going to be a series dealing with the issues of one main species. And in the setting it has – some jerk billionaire uses his resources to capture and hunt different supernatural species, it makes it work. Armstrong’s female characters are very strong and very capable and I appreciate that. Even the imprisoned witches and Elena the werewolf are resourceful and making the effort to make do with their circumstances while finding a way out. It’s far more realistic than panicking and waiting for male characters to help them out…and sometimes it seems like stories have to be set in a fully supernatural universe for that to be truly understood.

Ozma, planning her escape from the couch full of pumpkins.

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“Gortran caca.”

56. City of Devils – Justin Robinson

Long time, no see, eh? Let’s just say that moving, starting a new job, renewing my ongoing battle with eczema (Now on my neck! Very visibly! You can’t see me!), most of my allergies, and trying not to engage with the fatalist part of my brain every second has been distressing. However, October is my favorite month and this book was FUN and I’m trying very hard.

When reading a book that engages heavily with pop culture, as this one does, I cannot help but think back to every writing workshop I’ve brought part of Night of the Squirrels to with the “But will everyone get it? Why are you referencing anything at all if everyone won’t get it?” questions. I get why people ask that. I get why workshops are concerned with that- they typically seem designed to make everyone’s work as accessible and therefore generic as possible. Some people don’t like pop culture, won’t appreciate references, have no sense of humor, etc. That’s fine. They’re fine. I believe the generic story with broad emotions and no pop cultural references humans are already being catered to very handily by several writers. Not me. Not Justin Robinson in City of Devils.

I do have to say I was initially skeptical when a vast variety of monsters were mentioned and I was especially skeptical when one of the characters was a gremlin named “Brows.” Full disclosure, probably not a surprise, I adore Gremlins (and Gremlins II) and I don’t want to see anybody mangle anything about either of those films, including the gremlins that scared me to death when I was little. Hi ho.  Thankfully, Robinson has enough respect for this subject matter and the necessity of red herrings in mystery stories and not leaving loose ends (or maybe I should say stringy, pulpy ends as I was pretty happy with how the pumpkin-head, not the Henriksen movie one with too big scapulas -more like Jack from Return to Oz, ended up being more than just a lawn visitor). Maybe he also has a Gremlins lunchbox. Even if he doesn’t, I really appreciate having a solid example of how smoothly references can work to truly deepen the possibilities of appreciation in a funny, original story.

The meshing of horror movie monsters (the werewolves vs. wolfmen distinctions were particularly amusing to me) with noir tropes and humor in sweaty post-war L.A.’s secretive studio system and underworld really worked for me. I was expecting it to be like what the movie Dylan Dog wanted to be and it easily met and exceeded that expectation, which makes it seem like I’m lowballing but I had high hopes for the Dylan Dog movie. City of Devils was more fun. I am also now concerned about the whereabouts of a toad.

Donde esta Escuerzo?

If Thaddeus ever eats after midnight and becomes a Gremlin of the scariest kind, his name will be “Bolt.” I will not allow him to move to L.A. though, not even Louisiana, where I have spent many extremely sweaty days and nights.

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Area Teenagers to Continue Endless, Irritating Romance

3.  Beautiful Redemption – Margaret Stohl & Kami Garcia

The end of the series. Lately, I’ve noticed that some series are moving to quadrilogies…this one, Maberrry’s Rot and Ruin series… and I’m still working on my trilogy. Always behind. But at least trilogies are classic. There are a few trilogies that hold up. Anyway, I just sometimes feel like the kind of stories I write are either too far ahead or too far behind to be published legitimately. I’m probably not the only one who feels that way and it really just enforces the whole dead-in-the-gutter before respect thing that happens to writers sometimes. Well, that was uplifting, I guess I’ll get on with the rest of it. To be fair, my mood has not been the greatest lately. Ozymandias’s bladder stone issues are back-exactly one year after he came to live with me which is shitty and totally unfair. They (stones) always come back though, even if they’re surgically removed. And I’m grading papers again, it’s always super fun to read a paper that’s completely devoid of subject-verb agreement in which the writer claims they want to be a teacher. Why didn’t they pay attention in middle school English if teaching was their chosen career field? Why? My brain screams at these inconsistencies like Leonardo DiCaprio in that field in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. Oh look, I’ve made it back around to the topic I should be discussing. Yay for me. It’s looking up. Whatever it is.

I definitely respect the concreteness of the ending. The last page was essentially a “no, seriously, it’s over” declaration. Thanks for not leaving loose ends! I mean that sincerely. I’m not really going to discuss anything that happens because if you haven’t bothered with the other books, there is no reason for you to read this one, it won’t be useful for you, it will just be confusing. The recurring aspects of these books worked out nicely in the last entry and as someone who has done many crosswords with their grandmother, I appreciated crossword puzzles having an important function in this book.

I do want to talk about the upcoming movie though. I have seen it decribed very lazily as “Twilight with witches” and the latest attempt to capitalize on Twilight’s success. Twilight’s first page made me want to throw up with boredom and despair. It was super lazy writing. And then, the movie demonstrated the laziness with which the characters were conceived – shells of humans (and vampires) with very little going for them beyond being audience surrogates for those who want a creepy stalker or two. Now, I like fully formed characters, they’re very important to me as a writer and a reader. I also like earned storylines. In Twilight, Bella and Edward seem to fall in love because they must, as they are both present in the narrative. In this series, as annoying as I found Lena and Ethan to be at times, they read as real. Real teenagers. Real annoying teenagers. Who have real, annoying teenage romance. But that isn’t the entirety of what happens. And as frustrated as I got with the first two books being slightly different mirrors of each other, they more than made up for it in Beautiful Chaos and Beautiful Redemption. This series is not Twilight with witches (or casters), I don’t even really think of it as solely being about the main romance between Ethan and Lena. It’s more like a less-ridiculously sticky and purple version of the Mayfair Witches. Which I enjoyed as an annoying teenager. And maybe, just maybe, Macon is a less manipulative version of Julian. Everyone loves Julian.

He's certainly bitten his thumb at Danger quite a few times - they're occasionally friends.

Ozymandias. He is the Mercutio of my herd. Or the Tybalt. He’s pivotal, that’s all I know.

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That gum you like is going to come back in style.

35. Book of Shadows – Alexandra Sokoloff

I enjoy reading Alexandra Sokoloff’s books. They tend to be spritely and have quickly paced stories, which makes perfect sense as she is a screenwriter as well. They are also a little easy to dismiss, which is the problem I have with mysteries in general. I don’t read them terribly often, but from what I’ve experienced recommending them, one-shot mysteries can be very disposable and what people are really looking for is someone to follow – the DA, the Miss Marple, the bounty hunter, the two weird guys who will go into the swamp or the abandoned house, or the woman who keeps hearing random dead people telling her where they’re buried. The victims are rarely all that interesting. Sure, they tend to have sordid pasts or have been in the wrong place at the wrong time…but they’re not the focus unless it’s Twin Peaks and even then Laura wasn’t the end focus thanks to the awesomeness of Special Agent Dale Cooper. So maybe I just prefer to watch mysteries. The Killing, though, man, I just can’t say anything about that end result yet except a hearty, “Sheesh.” Bookwise I’ve dabbled into categorized as mystery novelists Elmore Leonard and Joe R. Lansdale and Charlaine Harris (although none of what I’ve read of any of these authors was very straightforwardly mystery). I’ve been told I might enjoy Janet Evanovich like masses of people across the nation but a. that’s a hamster and b. I’m not ready and I’ve got a lot of other books to go through. There are a lot of dead people to read about.

Anyway, Book of Shadows is definitely a mystery but it has supernatural elements like a sexy witch and ritual murder. There were some trips to the dump and the subtle harassment of a super-tool goth musician who was a red herring and that was so shocking. Overall, I would have watched it if it was a monster-of-the-week episode of Supernatural and enjoyed it a little more because there would have been some trusty guides to deal with the circumstances. Reading it was all right, a bit of a brain candy-style experience and I do not remember the name of the main character but the story flowed and the ending was a tad on the cheesy side. The ending of The Harrowing was a bit on the wonky side for me as well, so maybe Sokoloff has Stephen King’s ending syndrome where every so often, the reveal just blows for no good reason.

Snorecery. Twiglet prefers Leonard’s brand of problematic magic.

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