Review of Haunted Nights—A Halloween Collection

I’ve got another new Halloween book for you! Haunted Nights, a Horror Writers Association anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton just came out two weeks ago, on October 3rd. The anthology collects sixteen never-before-published short stories by major authors including Garth Nix, Seanan McGuire, and Kelly Armstrong all revolving around the central theme of Halloween. Continue reading Review of Haunted Nights—A Halloween Collection

The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures Review

A couple of months ago, I started listening to an excellent podcast called Lore, in which Aaron Mahnke tells spooky stories from folklore around the world. Now Mahnke is coming out with an affiliated book called The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures, which hits stores tomorrow, October 10. This beautifully illustrated book collects a variety of folklore stories with a focus on particular types of monstrous creatures. It’s the first in a World of Lore series, and Mahnke plans to follow it up with two more books on Wicked Mortals and Dreadful Places within the next year. Continue reading The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures Review

Review of From Here to Eternity—Death Around the World

If you’re a fan of macabre content on Youtube, you’ve probably already come across Caitlin Doughty and her popular web series “Ask a Mortician.” In her videos, Caitlin combines absurd, witty humor with professional insight to answer viewers’ questions about death. Apart from being a Youtube star, Caitlin has also founded an organization called The Order of the Good Death, which aims to dismantle the cultural taboos we’ve built up around talking about the fate that awaits us all. In 2015, she published her first book—a memoir called Smoke Get in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory. You can read my glowing review of that book here. Now her highly anticipated second book has finally arrived, and it’s every bit as good as the first! From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death hits shelves tomorrow, October 3. You can also check Caitlin’s website to see if she’s doing any signings at the bookstores or cemeteries in your area. Continue reading Review of From Here to Eternity—Death Around the World

Subscription-Based Web Comic: Mr. Valdemar and Other Gothic Tales

I love new adaptations of classic works of Gothic literature, especially those that bring the stories into a new medium. Mr. Valdemar and Other Gothic Tales does exactly that by adapting short horror stories into webcomic form. The title of this webcomic series takes its name from an Edgar Allan Poe story, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” and will feature stories by Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Jack London, W. W. Jacobs, and many more. The project aims to adapt as many classic short stories as possible, posting one new page per week. The scripts are written by Jose Luis Bueno Piña, and each story has a different artist. These days, many webcomic creators are moving to a subscription-based model, and Mr. Valdemar and Other Gothic Tales is no different. The only way to get full access to these stories is to support the project on Patreon. Continue reading Subscription-Based Web Comic: Mr. Valdemar and Other Gothic Tales

New York City’s Brand New Oscar Wilde Bar

Oscar Wilde BarYes, it’s every bit as extravagant as Oscar would want it to be.

As you may know, Oscar Wilde was a nineteenth-century writer closely associated with the Aesthetic Movement, which focused on the inherent value of beauty and art for art’s sake. He shocked Victorian society with his decadent lifestyle and morally ambiguous writings, the best known of which are his satirical play, The Importance of Being Ernest, and his Gothic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. And now, a brand new bar has opened in New York City to honor his legacy. Originally slated to debut in June, the bar—simply called Oscar Wilde—finally opened its doors just last month. You may remember over a year ago, I wrote a post on the best gothic literature-themed bars in Manhattan, of which there are a surprising amount. But as soon as I started seeing pictures of this new bar’s interior, I knew it would put them all to shame. I finally got the chance to stop by for a few drinks last week so I could give you all a first-hand review. Continue reading New York City’s Brand New Oscar Wilde Bar

Shadowhouse Fall Review–A Shadowshaper Sequel

A handful of Brooklyn teens must master their new-found ability to wield spirits like weapons in Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowhouse Fall, the highly anticipated sequel to his first YA novel Shadowshaper. I reviewed the audiobook of Shadowshaper, last May and was struck by Older’s ability to bring a new perspective into the often over-saturated genre of urban fantasy. Since the release of Shadowshaper, Older has published two ebook-only novellas, Ghost Girl in the Corner and Dead Light March, which take place between the events of Shadowshaper and its sequel. While not it’s not absolutely necessary to have read the novellas in order to understand what’s going on in Shadowhouse Fall, they do introduce and provide some backstory for a new character who plays a prominent role in the sequel. The novellas are currently $0.99 on AmazonShadowhouse Fall comes out tomorrow, September 12, and can be found at most major book retailers.  Continue reading Shadowhouse Fall Review–A Shadowshaper Sequel

Review of The Dark Nest Chronicles–A Gothic Space Opera

Love paranormal gothic romance? How about paranormal gothic romance in space! In my quest to read and review everything Leanna Renee Hieber has ever written, I recently picked up her first published series, The Dark Nest Chronicles. The Chronicles consist of three novellas, the first of which won the 2009 Prism Award for excellence in Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Romance. A couple years ago, the three novellas were compiled into a single volume and released together. That’s the version I got, and I read them all in one fell swoop. Continue reading Review of The Dark Nest Chronicles–A Gothic Space Opera

Back to School Reading List: Short Story Edition

This time of year will always make me think of getting ready to go back to school, despite the fact that I’m no longer a student. One of my favorite things about the beginning of the school year was looking over the syllabus to see what new books and stories we’d be reading in English class. Last August, I wrote up a basic primer of five Gothic novels you might find on a high school syllabus. This year, I want to do the same for short stories. If you’re heading back to school this fall, check your reading lists for these stories to see if you’re in for a treat! And if your school days are long behind you, see if you missed out on any of these great reads. It’s never too late to read a classic! Continue reading Back to School Reading List: Short Story Edition

Gothic Tropes: Madness

Madness is the monster that lurks inside our own minds. And in some ways, it is the most terrifying monster of all. Its intangibility means that it cannot be fought, and its irrational nature makes it nearly impossible to understand. Perhaps this is why insanity crops up as one of the most common themes in Gothic literature. I present it in this post as one trope, but madness is explored in many different ways in both the victims and the villains of Gothic literature, and the way it is presented has changed over time.

Madness in early Gothic literature tends to be depicted in connection with the moral failings of the antagonist. In Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), the titular clergyman is described as being “worked up to madness” right before he murders a woman. His madness is usually mentioned in conjunction with his rage or lust, and it motivates him to perform acts of violence he never would have considered before. Madness also comes up repeatedly in Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), with Melmoth seeming to spread it wherever he goes.

But Edgar Allan Poe is perhaps the author most responsible for making madness an integral aspect of the gothic genre. Poe seeks to explore the inner workings of the mind, and to take the reader along for the ride when those workings begin to rot and crumble. One of the best examples of this is Poe’s 1843 short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The story begins with the first-person narrator insisting on his own sanity, saying things like, “How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.” By approaching madness from a first-person perspective, Poe is able to give the reader and up-close view of its horrors while blurring the line between victim and villain.

H. P. Lovecraft builds on Poe’s tradition of mad narrators. Almost all of his short stories end with the protagonist slowly devolving into insanity as he discovers horrors beyond his comprehension. One of Lovecraft’s biggest contributions to the genre is the invention of Arkham Sanitarium, which appears in his 1937 short story “The Thing on the Doorstep.” The story begins with the narrator, Daniel Upton, acknowledging that many will think him mad after he came to the sanitarium and shot his friend who had been residing there. But to prove his sanity, Upton lays out his evidence for believing that his friend was possessed. Lovecraft’s fictional sanitarium inspired the Arkham Asylum of the Batman comics and has served as one of the prototypes for what has become one of the core settings of the modern horror genre.

Let me back up a century for a second to address the more specific trope of women and madness. During the Victorian era, madness, especially in the form of “hysteria,” was a malady associated mostly with women, since many believed that women had weaker minds and were less capable of rational thought. Several female authors, however, turned this trope around and used madness to represent the devastating effects of societal repression on women. One of the most iconic examples of this is the character of Berthe Mason in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847). In the novel, Bertha Mason is Mr. Rochester’s first wife, a Jamaican of Creole heritage whom he locks in the attic due to her violent insanity. In 1979, a pair of feminist scholars, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, published a book called The Madwoman in the Attic, in which they use the character of Bertha Mason to illustrate how female writers work through their struggles with stereotyped views of women as either “angels” or “monsters” in their writing. Charlotte Perkins Gilman addresses the issue of women and madness more directly in her 1892 short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In this early example of horror literature, the unnamed female protagonist is driven mad by her boredom with the life she is limited to as a woman. Unable to have a fulfilling life outside the house like her husband, she instead confines herself to one room and becomes obsessed with its patterned wallpaper, convinced that there are women trapped inside that she must free.

Two weeks ago, I reviewed Emilie Autumn’s The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, which combines several of these aspects of the classic madness trope. As in Lovecraft’s story, Emily Autumn’s tale features an asylum as its central setting, complete with a number of inmates who have been wrongfully committed. And like Brontë and Gilman, Emilie Autumn explores that specific overlap in which madness is both the attributed cause and the effect of women’s subjugation.

What other examples of madness in Gothic literature can you think of? And what other tropes would you like to see me discuss? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

The Sea Monster Literary Canon

This week I continue my quest to establish a literary canon for each and every monster in the gothic tradition. So far, I’ve done three of the most prominent types of monsters in horror fiction: vampires, zombies, and demons. But now it’s time to venture into uncharted waters and see what I can do for monsters with a less clearly defined canon. And where better to start than with one of the oldest and most pervasive of monsters: the sea monster? Continue reading The Sea Monster Literary Canon