Notes from the Shire: Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! The Halloween season is the perfect time of year to pick up a book that can give you a good scare or two. There are a lot of go-to Halloween reads that you could choose from, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but there are also a lot of contemporary books out there that can get into a spooky state of mind. Here are some new or currently relevant books I highly recommend, just read them with the night light on! 

The Ghost: A Cultural History by Susan Owens



Newly re-released in paperback at the beginning of October, The Ghost is a cultural reflection on, well, ghosts--and their role in literature and art throughout British history, going as far back as five thousand years ago. Notable--and personal favorite--works of literature such as William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol are touched upon, and I really enjoyed the variety of changes the idea of a “ghost” have gone through over the centuries. My favorite aspect of this book that Owens analyzes is that, similar to ghost films and television shows, ghosts seem to be one of the only supernatural entities to carry on in nearly any story. In other words, they’re timeless. 


To read more staff reviews on The Ghost: A Cultural History, click here.


It and/or Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King 



The 2019 fall movie release season appears to be heavily Stephen-King themed, with the sequel It: Chapter Two having come out in September and Doctor Sleep, the book-and-movie sequel to The Shining coming out THIS WEEK. I am a big horror cinema fan, but I always suggest to friends and family to read and research the source material before seeing its modern adaptations in film and TV, and I’ll say the same for It and Doctor Sleep. 


It takes place in two different timelines: in flashbacks when seven teenagers first come across It, a shapeshifting, child-eating monster that preys on fear, and again when it returns 27 years later and the “Losers Club” has to battle it again as adults. It’s a thick read (1,138 pages, to be exact) but only because there is so much story to tell, and a lot of heart behind the horror. I loved both It Chapter One (2016) and Chapter Two (2019) and the improvements and odes they each held to the novel, but, especially for Chapter Two, reading the book before watching the film versions is essential to understanding the plot and appreciating director Andrés Muschietti’s take. 


Now with Doctor Sleep, there is even more reason to read the book before seeing the film. Doctor Sleep is the sequel to one of King’s most famous stories, The Shining, and is set decades after its predecessor, with Dan Torrance as an adult still coping with the trauma he had from his time at the Overlook Hotel. The upcoming movie will not only be an adaption of the book, but also will exist in the same cinematic universe as Stanely Kubrick’s 1980 film adaption of The Shining, which Stephen King famously despised. The film will supposedly be combining and reconciling the differences between The Shining’s book and movie versions, so it is important to read through the book material before seeing this film adaption in theaters. 


To view more staff reviews on It, click here

To view more staff reviews on Doctor Sleep, click here.  


Ninth House, by Leigh Bardugo 



Alright, this is not technically a “horror” book, or a “supernatural” book; it’s classified as a fantasy. But the content in this novel, written by Leigh Bardugo, is very dark and spooky. Ninth House, which was just released on October 8th, is about Galaxy “Alex” Stern, a young woman who’s fallen in with the wrong crowd but has been offered a full ride to attend Yale by a group of mysterious benefactors, with the goal to monitor the campus’ many secret societies. 

While this novel is full of dark plots, graphic imagery and violence galore, its strengths lie with Alex as an empowering protagonist and just being an overall thrilling read with murder, mystery, magic and GHOSTS! I consider this novel as a great Halloween read because it uses storytelling the same way many horror stories do. While there may be magic, ghosts, and mayhem happening throughout the story, the true horrors are the real-life issues the characters are suffering from. Ninth House goes beyond its secret societies and occult foundation; it is a powerful book about victims of abuse and violence, and honoring those who have survived it and healed from it. What this book succeeds exceptionally in is that it does not glorify its graphicly violent scenes, but uses it to strengthen the characters and their motivations. 

I highly recommend this new fantasy novel, and if you finish it and feel eager to read more of Alex Stern’s story, fear not--there is going to be a SEQUEL!  


To view more staff reviews on Ninth House, click here.



Ghostland, by Colin Dickey



I've read a lot of ghost books. Most of them being pretty terrible. Unfortunately, parapsychology is often the domain of self-published authors, desperately in need of an editor and a graphic designer. Luckily, Colin Dickey's Ghostland is a welcome reprieve from the dregs of your local author shelf, with a well-written, well-researched look at some of the most haunted places in America.

Dickey positions himself as neither a skeptic nor a believer in most cases, instead presenting the factual history of supposedly haunted locales, and recounting the local legends and urban myths that may have contributed to some of the larger-than-life histories of places like the infamous Winchester House in California.

I found myself learning quite a bit from Ghostland, and found that I had also been suckered into believing some of the less-than-true rumors of various haunts. Firm believers in the supernatural may wrinkle their noses at some of the debunking Dickey presents, but for those who are curious, this is a standout book in the genre. — Chris Linendoll

They haunt houses, hotels, whorehouses, asylums, and graveyards. They surprise, startle, and scare us. They toy with us. Or do they? Dickey digs deep into America's ghost lore, and discovers, more often than not, that their manifestation stems from our own personal, communal, and unresolved anxieties and fears. — Mike Hare


Kirstin is a bookseller at the Northshire in Saratoga Springs, NY.

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