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11 MAGICAL BOOKS TO READ THIS HALLOWEEN

Hello my dear friends,

I’ve been silent for a while, but mindflayers never sleep, we simply dream in our dark labyrinths to wait out the aeons until it’s time for us to reclaim the surface world.

As it’s Halloween, which is my favourite day of the year, a magical time of year in which anything is possible, I have 11 magical and horrifying book recommendations for you! Some of these are recently-reads, and some are oldie-goldies. Either way, they’ll ensure you have a spooktacular Autumn and Winter. These are not in a particular order, so without further ado, here they are…

1. Songs of a Dead Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti

Okay, I’ll admit I’m quite late to the Ligotti party, but I’m so glad I’ve arrived. Ligotti combines psychological insight, impressionistic and poetic prose, and cosmic horror in the vein of H. P. Lovecraft to produce his own unique brand of darkness that is as addictive as it is unsettling. Songs of a Dead Dreamer is a collection of short stories—each one allowing the reader a glimpse into the blackest of unknowns, exploring existential questions of love and being. If you’re not a regular reader of short stories (in which case you’re not alone as I prefer longer mediums) I’d still recommend this compelling collection. Venture to the further reaches of the human psyche, to places where alchemy is not merely about the transubstantiation of matter but also of spirit. Glimpse the darkest worlds where only the truly mad can find their home. Songs of a Dead Dreamer is like an acid trip into the heart of darkness, one that cannot leave you unchanged.

SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER

2. Witchopper by Dan Soule

Dan Soule has written many books, all of which I love, but Witchopper is a very special tome. This story explores the relationship between father and son, between light and dark, between faith and chaos, between atavism and restraint, and explores what it means to grow up. It’s a story of post-Edenic loss of innocence told with tremendous passion, fierce intelligence, and fearless honesty. It’s a book not afraid to challenge social mores, sensibilities, or traditional ideas of morality. But at the same time it’s a hopeful story of redemption and love conquering all. The scope of this book is such that no brief review can do it justice, you’ll simply have to travel to the rural town of Southwell, and find out for yourself…

WITCHOPPER

3. All of Me by Iseult Murphy

I’ve reviewed All of Me previously on this site: it’s probably one of the best novellas I’ve ever read. This is a story of Faustian pacts, body-image, and the near-impossibility of self-love. It’s a harrowing and surprising tale that had me riveted from page one to its emotional, moving finale. Whilst it bills itself as body-horror, and there’s plenty of that to go around, the aspect of the book that will stay with me is the powerful psychology explored through its principle characters, a psychology which is as believable and sympathetic as it is unnerving.

ALL OF ME

4. Petite Mort by Nikki Noir and S. C. Mendes

Over the last year or two I’ve reviewed several works, both long-form and short-form, by Nikki Noir and S. C. Mendes, including a novella they wrote together called Algorithm of the Gods and the short story #DeadSealChallenge. Mendes and Noir are an awesome writing team—their styles blend effortlessly—and some of the ideas they come up with would make a bizarro author jealous. What I truly love about their work is how rich it is with symbolism, so that each sentence, image, or event feels loaded with meaning and purpose. While there is plenty of gross-out for even the most diehard fan of gore, and sex to satisfy the porn addict, the guts and orifices are never pointless titillation but a mechanism to explore deeper themes. Petite Mort is a collection of Mendes and Noirs’ shorter collaborative fiction, including Cucumbers and Comforters (which I reviewed here) and other horrifying wonders. If you’re curious about Mendes and Noir, this is the place to start.

PETITE MORT

5. We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Those who know me knows how much I adore Grady Hendrix. He is an incredible writer who manages to combine the humour and humanity of life with a rich texture of darkness. Of his many books, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is undoubtedly my favourite. However, one book by Grady Hendrix that is often overlooked when I see discussions about his body of work is We Sold Out Souls. This is a fundamentally occult tale that explores conspiracy theories, Faustian bargains, and the intimate connection between rock ‘n’ roll and the dark powers. Balanced against feisty heroines is the ever-present malignancy of the dark eye, which is at once Sauron-like but also something altogether less fantastical and more disturbing. Several scenes in this book are so vividly described they will never leave you (if you’re claustrophobic, then you’ll probably want to tap out of this one), and the plotting is elegant and cunning in how it dovetails. This is a story of the pitfalls of success, the injustice of the world, and the timeless struggle between good and evil.

WE SOLD OUR SOULS

6. Flesh Rehearsal by Brian Bowyer

I reviewed this book fairly recently, but you will have to forgive me for recommending it again, because Brian Bowyer is simply a genius. Flesh Rehearsal shares some similarities with We Sold Our Souls, it’s a book about heavy metal, occultism, powerful women, and the darkness dwelling in human hearts—but it’s also surprisingly a book about love.In many ways it’s a deranged novel, written with feverously intense prose that cuts to the heart of matters with the precise brutality of a sacrificial blade. Flesh Rehearsal embodies the wisdom of John Ruskin, “All great and beautiful work has come of first gazing without shrinking into the darkness.”

FLESH REHEARSAL

7. Incarnate by Steve Stred

Almost every single book by Steve Stred would be appropriate for Halloween reading, but I think Incarnate is one of Stred’s most disturbing and accomplished books. Incarnate is particularly potent because it takes on so many horror tropes—holidaying in a remote location, a haunted house, a séance gone wrong—and yet remakes them into new, weird, and wondrous forms. Just when I thought I could predict what was going to happen, Stred throws a curveball. And the unconventional way Stred approaches writing horror scenes—sometimes narrating from bizarre or unexpected perspectives—casts a deeply unsettling spell over the reader. Stred is one of the few authors who can make me feel dread, and Incarnate succeeds in doing just this. If Shirley Jackson had lived to write a sequel to The Haunting of Hill House, this might have been it.

INCARNATE

8. Inside Perron Manor by Lee Mountford

Continuing the theme of haunted houses, Lee Mountford’s introductory novella to his Haunted series is a sublime masterclass in epistolary or “found footage” horror. Written from the perspective of a paranormal investigator obsessed with an ancient, malevolent house, Mountford inveigles us in the occult and disturbing history of Perron Manor to the point where we begin to lose our sense of reality. The aim of all good verisimilitudinous horror tales is to destroy the reader’s perception of the truth and make them believe, against all odds, in the reality of the tale, and Mountford succeeded so well in this I actually googled “Perron Manor”… Do you need any more encouragement?

INSIDE PERRON MANOR

9. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

In recent years, I’ve largely found myself preferring indie and self-published books to traditionally published ones—they take more risks and they explore unchartered territory—but there are exceptions to the rule, and Susanna Clarke is one of them. Piranesi is a phenomenal book that explores occult ideas, including the dissolution of the Self, the presence of other planes of existence, and much, much more. The horror here is subtle—a horror of not knowing one’s own mind, of doubting reality to the utmost extent. The tale is told in a style that is hauntingly imagistic, making the familiar strange and the strange familiar. There are a number of surprises in this story, but even if you work out the true nature of things, the journey to get there is so thrilling, so heroic, so mysterious that you will want to re-read it again the moment it finishes.

PIRANESI

10. Oblivion Black by Christa Wojciechowski

This may seem an odd choice, as it is less fantastical and overtly “horror” than the other selections on this list. But likePiranesi, the horror in Oblivion Black is subtle yet no-less present. Oblivion Black is at its heart a novel about addiction and beauty, and how the two interrelate. It explores the story of a recovering heroine addict who takes up a job modelling for a legendary sculptor—erotic tension and unspoken desires ensue. However, beneath the sculptor’s charismatic facade lies darkness and trauma, just as our heroine, Ona, stills feels the draw towards her addictive past. Both are liberated by the creation of art, but even art can be corrupted when it is made with ill-intent. Oblivion Black is shocking, provocative, seductive, beautiful, and horrifying all in equal measure. And it’s sequel, Hierarchy of Needs, which I had the pleasure of beta-reading, is even more so. Don’t miss out.

OBLIVION BLACK

11. Melmoth The Wanderer by Charles Maturin

Four years ago, I wrote a ridiculously long article about Melmoth The Wanderer. My feelings about the book have not changed since then, I still regard it as the underrated masterpiece of Gothic fiction. What stands out about this novel is the style in which it is written, which is at once poetic and precise yet also labyrinthine and haunting. Maturin ensnares the reader in the runnels of Melmoth’s mind until we begin to think like the deranged anti-hero who threads his way through the complex layers of this book’s framed narrative. Imagine Inception written by Mary Shelly and Christopher Marlowe and you have a sense of the warped genius of Melmoth The Wanderer. Everyone should try reading this book at least once—though be warned those who succeed may end up mad!

MELMOTH THE WANDERER

Well, that’s my 11 recommendations for this spooky occasion. Have a terrifyingly joyous Halloween my dear friends. And stay classy!

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Review of Inside: Perron Manor by Lee Mountford

Inside: Perron Manor is the prequel novella to Lee Mountford’s six-book Haunted series. I’m not normally a fan of the classic horror ghost-story, unless I’m reading the Gothic masters, but Lee Mountford’s novella blew me away.

Inside: Perron Manor is an exercise in verisimilitude, a literary technique—most often deployed by horror writer—to make a manuscript seem like an authentic document. The most famous example of this is Horace Walpole, who originally claimed that he found the manuscript for The Castle of Otranto in an ancient church in Europe and translated it from medieval Italian; he didn’t even claim authorship. Readers believed him and the book sold like wildfire. In reality, The Castle of Otranto is a cleverly written epistemological Gothic novel, and eventually Walpole came clean about that fact. However, it just goes to show how badly readers wanted to believe the legend. We can see an echo of this process in modern “found footage” films and CreepyPasta, a site where the more anonymous the author makes themselves in the process of the telling, the better. Consider how Paranormal Activity caused waves of controversy for not having a credits list at the end of the film; if no Directors or Actors were cited… surely that meant it was real?

Inside: Perron Manor continues this rich tradition and pulls it off with spectacular aplomb. The novella poses as a non-fiction book written by paranormal investigator David Ritter. Ritter is an obsessive who is drawn to Perron Manor, a house of infamy and legend on the outskirts of a crumbling little village called Alnmouth. Many writers have similarly tried to create their own verisimilitudes: posing their novels as investigative journals, or a collection of letters, or a tape-recording, but Lee Mountford (or should I say David Ritter, I am already getting confused about what’s reality and what’s fiction) succeeds where they fail because of his research. Simply put: he’s done his homework. Whilst taking us through the troubled and cursed history of the house, Ritter (I mean Mountford) illuminates each time period with a deft brush. Tiny details only a medieval history buff would know give this authenticity, to the point where I was looking up place and character names to double check which were real and which weren’t. Mountford (or is it Ritter?) so deftly interweaves real history with his own fiction that it becomes impossible to extricate the two, and that’s where the horror begins to settle in. Horror works best in the liminal spaces of ambiguity, where reality is dissolved and rationality destroyed. An author who can skillfully destabilise his readers will achieve far greater heights of terror.

I’ve read a lot of Splatterpunk and Extreme Horror in my time. I’m certainly not against the spilling of guts. But I admire an author who can turn the camera away and give me a different kind of fear even more than one who can twist my insides in disgust. Lee Mountford has taken to heart the age-old lesson that what you don’t see is far scarier than what you do. He never oversteps the mark, which many horror authors do, where the plot then descends into parody, and even at the tense conclusion of the novella what is waiting for Ritter never quite steps into the light… Coupled with this intuitive sense of when not to show us something, or when to let the silence speak, is a concise descriptive power. Many of the “scares” in this book are classic horror fare: faces in windows, shadows at the end of the bed, and yet Mountford will often offer up just one subtle little detail that sets his image apart from the generic. For example,

Skin was dark and mottled. I could see bone through her cheeks. No lips. Just teeth and black gums. No eyes, either.”

This description (delivered by one of Ritter’s interviewees) is understated, yet extremely vivid. The fact it sounds like dialogue lends further potency to it. The detail I think is most unique here is actually the “no lips”. I can totally see those ape-like gums. But, in terms of scare factor, he saves the best until last: “No eyes”. It’s an iconic, almost archetypal image, that is made more powerful by what went before. We can’t help but picture Sam Neil in Event Horizon. Chilling.

The main purpose of this novella is to give us some of the background of the house in order to set us up for the main event of Book 1 in the Haunted series. It would be easy for this to therefore feel like an info-dump, but despite the fact Ritter (or Mountford? Help!) does take us through a long stretch of history (the house has deep roots), we don’t feel like it’s purely informational. Ritter has his own arc, though I suspect it’s not fully done with by the end of the novella—we’ll see him again in subsequent books, I’m sure. And the way the history of the house is layered feels more like the layers of a human mind, its Unconscious component stretching back into the dismal savagery of antiquity, and its Conscious component haunted by what lies in its id.

Inside: Perron Manor is a quick and thrilling read for anyone who loves haunted house fare but wants something with a bit more edge. Lee Mountford is an extraordinarily talented writer, and I may just have to read all 6 books of his series.

You can buy Inside: Perron Manor here:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon CA

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