Friday, October 31, 2014

Trick or Treat! by Suzy Witten author of The Afflicted Girls

It’s one of the best days of the year today, and we have a guest post from author Suzy Witten titled Trick or Treat!

Suzy’s the author of a favorite book of mine that’s perfect for fall – The Afflicted Girls. It’s a novel set around the Salem witch trials with an unexpected twist. You can read my review for The Afflicted Girls by linking on this text. And read on as Suzy tells us a bit about the history of witches and their association with Halloween.


Trick or Treat!

Ask a child: who rides a broom on Halloween night? Of course, she’ll know.

Then ask: but why are witches associated with Halloween? You’ll get a shrug.

Because she’d have to look back thousands of years... to when on Yule night in Norway, goddess Reisarova and her witch hordes mounted their black steeds with eyes of shining ember, and during the wild ride would cast down saddles onto roofs, foretelling death for the occupant.

Or when the troll witch giantess Hyrrokin rode through her Swedish skies on a wolf bridled with snakes.

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Or when on Lithuania’s midsummer night, all magicians and witches flew to the top of Mt. Szatria to revel with their mighty sorceress Jauterita.

Or when in the Scottish highlands at summer’s end, with a wand of power in her hand, grey-cloaked crone Nicnevin led her witch fairies and goblins astride animal spirits in a great celebratory Parade. Or when in Ireland, the beings and souls of the Otherworld—some of them human who’d been turned into cats for evil deeds—assembled at the sacrificial bonfire of the Druids among the people to honor the dying natural world in the presence of the aged Crone, the Hag, the Cailleach... all knew would re-emerge in spring as a beautiful, powerful maiden. For it was on Samhain night that the barrier between the worlds was so thin, spirits who were homesick could re-enter this mortal world and commune with and visit their loved ones.

In the German-speaking countries of Eastern Europe, the Old Goddess might appear at harvest’s end as an ugly, long-nosed spinster. On this Ember Night, she’d bring treats or play tricks: spindles of finished thread for industrious girls, dirtying or tangling the unspun
flax of lazy spinners. Sometimes she’d sport a tooth or nose of iron, or carry live coals in her pitcher for burning their distaffs. Her job was to reward and punish children. Often she took the form of a pig.

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In time, she became a myth... as did her namesakes.

“At the end of the middle ages an international myth of the Old Goddess stretched from the Slavic east to the Celtic west and from Italy to Scandanavia. People said that a vibrant, powerful crone flew in the midst of a cavalcade of spirits dead and unborn, joined by witches of all lands. On the eves of pagan holy days the spirit hosts set out for high mountaintops or other sacred places. At these animist sanctuaries the witches dance, play music and games, feast and celebrate their mysteries.The divine “Mistress of the Night” presides over the gathering, giving cures and revealing the future. Often she miraculously revives the animals the witches have been feasting on.” (The Tregenda of the Old Goddess, Witches, and Spirits; Max Dashu (2000))

In these seemingly unrelated populations of pre-Roman, pre-Christian times, the Old Goddess’ names and manifestations were many. She was secure in her recurring reverence... until in the 1st Century B.C, the Romans invaded Northern Europe and brought their own festivals and goddesses with them.

Over the next four centuries, old and new customs merged, until by the 4th Century A.D., Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity everyone’s lawful religion and launched a holy war against Paganism and its symbols. The old practices were “Christianized,” and the old names, rites, meanings, symbols were recast.The Afflicted Girls - Suzy Witten

By the 8th Century A.D., the Pagan holy day of Samhaim was celebrated as Hallowmas: a triple Christian holiday comprised of All Hallow’s Eve or Hallowe’en (October 31), All Saints Day or All Hallows Day (November 1), and All Souls Day (November 2). This was still the time of year to remember the dead... but now the dead included martyrs and saints, and all faithful departed Christians.

As for the rest of us, it is the night when witches ride brooms, ghosts come a’haunting, and skeletons rise from graves... to shout in every doorway: “Trick or treat!”


Suzy Witten's career spans 20 years in the entertainment industry: as a filmmaker, screenwriter, story analyst, and editor for film and television. A graduate of USC's School of Cinematic Arts, she was nominated for a Women In Film filmmaking award for her theatrical film Runaway Eden about teenage runaways in Hollywood, and was a Walt Disney Studios Fellowship finalist for her original screenplay about the Salem witch hunt of 1692. She is in the process of finishing a new Young Adult book, and also works intermittently as a Media Relations Specialist during disasters for the U. S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). She resides in Los Angeles. Her debut novel, The Afflicted Girls, won the 2010 Independent Publisher (IPPY) silver medal for historical fiction.

You can find Suzy Witten on Goodreads and her website.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review: The Way Inn by Will Wiles

The Way Inn - Will Wiles

Review by John for The Way Inn by Will Wiles (Advance Readers Copy).

John’s quick take:   Intriguingly different novel – a surrealistic nightmare in the most mundane of settings.

John’s description:   Neil Double has an unusual job. He is a conference surrogate, attending industry conferences on behalf of his clients so that they don’t have to. He attends events for them, picks up all of the relevant material, talks to people they should have talked to, and reports back to them on things that they should have learned - all the while hiding the fact that he is a surrogate. He spends his life travelling and staying at mid-range hotels located in business parks and exhibition centers. In particular he ends up spending an inordinate amount of time in Way Inns, a huge hotel chain with locations all around the world.

While attending a conference for conference organizers at the recently erected MetaCentre exhibition complex, he stays in a brand new Way Inn hotel situated next door to the complex in the middle of what is essentially a series of large building sites. While things start out as they normally do for Double, in short order things start to go awry. He once again meets a woman that he met in very unusual circumstances at a previous event. He is then “outed” by one of the conference organizers who hates the fact that conference surrogates are eating into his business and enabling potential attendees to stay away. He then finds himself banned from the event and unable to get away from the Way Inn.

Then the rather strange woman starts to hint at something weird and astonishing about the mundane hotel chain. In turns attracted, puzzled, bemused and scared, Double finds himself increasingly drawn into the Way Inn. But he also comes to realize that there may be no way out.

John’s thoughts:   This was a bit of a slow starter but then really drew me in – a pacing and style which I suspect was intended. First you get to learn about a professional conference attendee who is attending a conference about the conference business, which is being held at the aptly named MetaCentre. But this is not quite as dull as it may sound, as Wiles writing has a nice sly humor to it and some of his observations are sharp.

After a while the story gradually starts to twist and turn, then develops some nicely surreal aspects before descending into a sinister nightmare. Imagine the movie Up In the Air mixed with the song by the Eagles Hotel California and a liberal sprinkling of H.P. Lovecraft – stir the three together and you end up somewhere near to The Way Inn.

I have to say that it was a combination that I liked. It did feel just a tad too slow in places, but the surprises and novelty of the story kept me engaged. Who’d have thought – a surrealistic horror story about the conference business? It worked for me. I’d rate this four stars and recommend it to anyone who likes stylish and subtle horror stories or who likes to try something a bit different. And have you had the “pleasure” of attending a lot of business conferences? If so, you may find this an entertaining read.


ARC | Harper Perennial | 09/16/2014 | Pages: 352

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Giveaway: The Penguin Book of Witches edited by Katherine Howe

The Penguin Book of Witches - ed. Katherine Howe

We have a giveaway for The Penguin Book of Witches edited by Katherine Howe. Penguin is offering one copy for a US or Canadian address. It’s perfect for fall and Halloween!

Please fill out the Google form to enter the contest.


Chilling real-life accounts of witches, from medieval Europe through colonial America, compiled by the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and Conversion.

From a manual for witch hunters written by King James himself in 1597, to court documents from the Salem witch trials of 1692, to newspaper coverage of a woman stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia while the Continental Congress met, The Penguin Book of Witches is a treasury of historical accounts of accused witches that sheds light on the reality behind the legends. Bringing to life stories like that of Eunice Cole, tried for attacking a teenage girl with a rock and buried with a stake through her heart; Jane Jacobs, a Bostonian so often accused of witchcraft that she took her tormentors to court on charges of slander; and Increase Mather, an exorcism-performing minister famed for his knowledge of witches, this volume provides a unique tour through the darkest history of English and North American witchcraft.

Paperback | 320 Pages | 30 Sep 2014 | Penguin Classics | Adult

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Monster Love by Robert Dunbar, editor of Dark Forest

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We have a seasonal post from Robert Dunbar that celebrates the upcoming holiday. Yes boys and girls, it’s almost Halloween.

And don’t we all love something a bit spooky this time of year? But some of us have a hankering for a bit more and Robert Dunbar is one of those special people.

Here he shares with us his imaginings in this post. It’s aptly called Monster Love!


Forget your favorite movie star or sports figure. What monster did you identify with as a child? Maybe we need a stronger word than “identify.”

What monster suggested your secret other self?

Go on. You can tell us. No one will judge. (Well, if it’s The Blob, some of us might get a little judgy.) Choices like this can prove so revealing. Growing up, we all invested countless hours in watching old horror movies on television, despite how much our parents complained. It’s only natural that we felt more affinity with some creatures than others, only natural that they flapped and crawled and howled through our dreams. Half the little boys I knew wanted to be Dracula when they grew up, mostly so they could bite girls, but quite a few seemed instead to go through a Frankenstein stage in their teens, lumbering about and appalling everyone. A Wolfman phase could be even more problematical. (“I can’t remember a thing about last night.” Oh please.) I can’t imagine what little girls fixated on. Surely no one truly yearned to be The Astounding She-Creature or Bride of the Gorilla.

And it wasn’t just movies. As a kid, I could never warm to any of those wholesome novels grownups were forever trying to foist on me. So irritating. (“Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar” was my childhood mantra, I swear.) Remember those books? The ones they approved of?

Dark Forest edited by Robert Dunbar

Ick.

They always seemed to involve a courageous pony, or the character-building hardship of life on the tundra, or plucky drummer boys who save the platoon. Even then, I could barely conceal my contempt.

I knew what I wanted. Where were the monsters? Where was the gloom? (Okay, so I thought of it as gloomth.) I missed the considerations of mortality and suffering, loneliness and decay. So I might not have been the most cheerful of children – I doubt I was the only one around who preferred moonlight to sunshine. Maybe we’re a different breed of people, the monster lovers. Perhaps we’re somehow innately perverse. Maybe we’re just braver.

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.” ~ Werner Herzog

So many of us still yearn for things that cry on the moors. Such devotion. Over the years, how many other romances have endured this way? Not that we approved of them, all those bloodthirsty fiends, but we understood them. They were in us. Even as adults, we continue to adore our abominations, the cherished fears, the intimate horrors. Admit it. We need them, need our monsters. I believe it’s about control… or at least about the promise of control. The world can be a terrifying place. Complicated. Dangerous. And it only grows more so as our understanding of it deepens. Even now, isn’t it comforting to imagine that the forces of evil could be thwarted with a handful of wolfsbane? We require that illusion of safety. There is comfort in the thought. And we need comforting.

Never forget that personal demons may have as much to do with secret desires as with secret fears. All those things we’re not supposed to want…

“Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.” ~ Francisco de Goya

So we cling to our phobic passions. Monolithic corporations may be bent on destroying the planet, but at least we know how to combat vampires and witches. Because we all need to believe that virtue can redeem us, that the world could be saved by courage and love. How else can we carry on?

There’s nothing radical in this: know the enemy constitutes ancient wisdom. Horror has always played a vital part in our inner lives, especially in that it enables us to explore the deepest and least understood parts of ourselves, a process Carl Jung referred to as “owning your shadow.” Such a delicious phrase. As though by assigning a name to the beast, we gain some measure of power over it.

“Where there is a monster, there is a miracle.” ~ Ogden Nash

This is what writers do. We create myths. We try to make sense of life (and death). We reassure. And legends give us strength, even new ones.

They were all new once.

Consider the classics of the genre. Doctor Frankenstein – the ultimate deadbeat dad – abandoned his noble yet inhuman creation, dooming it to darkness. The monster groped, lonely and unloved, struggling to find some light in its own soul. How many of us could relate too well? And Dracula – that corrupting foreign influence – had to be stopped at the border at all costs. Surely the women characters were better off beheaded than awakened to that hideous lust. (Or so the male characters believed.) Those are the two main icons of course: Frankenstein and Dracula. It’s difficult even to imagine books that have had as much impact on our culture. I sometimes think that what seethes in those novels is nothing less than all of life and history and philosophy. And, yes, a case could be made for including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which brings sociology and psychology into the mix.

It’s a rich brew, horror.

Here, let me fill your glass.

(Feel anything yet?)

So support your local monsters. They provide an important service. Who would we be without them?


Robert Dunbar is a playwright, has written for radio, television and theater and is the author of the novels The Pines, The Shore, Willy and Wood, as well as a short story collection Martyrs & Monsters. He is also the editor at Uninvited Books and has edited several classic collections. The most recent collection of classic short stories edited by him is Dark Forest (you can link on the book’s title or the cover above for more information about the collection.)

But most importantly, in his spare time he likes to imagine himself as a professional ice skater, or possibly a trainer of tarantulas for jungle pictures. You can find out more about him on his website and blog, Goodreads (as well as his wonderful and accessible group there – Literary Horror), Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve read three of Robert’s books, which says a lot. He writes tasteful horror that will appeal to anyone who enjoys a literary aspect to their scary reads. To see my reviews of each link on the book’s title below.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman

Review by Shellie for The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

Shellie’s quick take:  A concise little novel with mystical and horror elements for the adult and older teen reader. It’s a perfect book for discussion since it’s layered as well.

Shellie’s description:  An Englishman relives a traumatic youthful event with dark fairytale-like happenings which have colored his memories and his life.

Shellie’s thoughts:  This is my second Neil Gaiman book. The first was The Sandman: The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Yoshitak Amano (text links to my review) and like the first book it has a distinct, clear and simply articulated style. I like this aspect of his writing - a lot.

It’s a great book for the Anglophile with its English setting, as the reader gets to take a trip down memory lane during a time in the not-so-distant past. There’s the sights, sounds, and tastes (yes tastes - Gaimen uses a variety of foods to illustrate the time) that many readers will love - those that have lived it and those who wish to visit it vicariously.

It has a touch of the mystical, which makes me wonder if Mr. Gaiman has been mining some of the more esoteric sciences and mysticism, since there appears to be a speckling of these ideas throughout the more mind-bending parts of the book. Certainly the disciplines contain elements that are conducive to transcending reality which this book of course does. Conversely, there is a firm grounding in a very relatable world at first, which helps to create my favorite kind of speculative story. It takes off from reality, moving into dark and weird territory which I find makes a book accessible.

There are lots of things that go into making a great book, and there are several things I loved about the trade paperback edition that I read. It contains some extras which make the book even nicer to read and handle - its cover; an informative interview with the author which includes a recipe for crepe-like pancakes with lemon and sugar on them; the copy has those lovely flaps on the front and back cover that you can use to mark your place; and best yet are the questions to consider when doing group discussions. The trade paperback is perfect for book groups. And because most book groups are generally women, elements in the story like the characters that represent women as the maiden, mother, and crone may facilitate more in-depth discussions.

Definitely, a dark book - it’s a book for adults that I think it would appeal to older teens. It’s one of my favorite books this year with so many of my favorite techniques and features; it’s a 4 star for me. Highly recommended.


William Morrow Paperbacks | 06/03/2014 | Paperback | Pages: 208

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