The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud

Three young teenagers sent to spend the night in an extremely haunted house that no one’s survived, a house with a room that bleeds and a screaming (obviously) staircase. What could possibly go wrong?

Fifty years ago, ghosts came back. Well, they’d always been around, sort of, but now they’re back in massive numbers, and they’re dangerous–they kill people. No one’s sure why they’re back, but exorcism is big business–so big, in fact, that there are agencies specially set up specifically to deal with The Problem. Oh, but there’s one slight catch: only kids can see ghosts. Once they age out, they’re useless, so they start training young.

Enter Lockwood & Co., London’s smallest ghost investigation agency. It’s made up of Anthony Lockwood, the leader; George Cubbins, the obnoxious, slappable know-it-all; and Lucy Carlyle, the newest recruit. Lockwood and Lucy are investigating an ordinary (or is it?) house haunting when things to terribly wrong. The house burns down, Lockwood gets taken off in an ambulance, and the homeowners are demanding reparations: £60,000 in four weeks, or their agency is getting shut down. They don’t have that kind of money; and to make things worse, after the whole fire debacle no one’s hiring them.

Then fortune smiles upon them: an extremely wealthy man asks them to investigate his manor, Combe Carey Hall. It’s the most haunted house in Britain, and no one’s survived the night in the west wing of the house. One of the rooms bleeds, there’s a staircase that screams, it’s dangerous and mysterious and just what they need–Fairfax is willing to pay them enough to save the agency.  They’re desperate for the money, but can they survive the night in a house that wants them dead?

I don’t know about you, but I love children in peril stories, and this book is so much fun. It’s a supernatural thriller with a good story, better characters, and a great mythology. Over a dozen types of ghosts populate the pages, all of them familiar but with a new, more sinister edge. Oh, and just a FYI: it’s classified as a kids book, but don’t let that throw you off. Johnny TremainThe Wizard of Oz, and Treasure Island are all technically kid’s books as well. It’s well-written and engaging, and if you’re looking for a ghost story, a thrill, or just something highly entertaining, give The Screaming Staircase a try.

Favorite Line:

“Oh, he’d sue us, all right,” Lockwood agreed. “But who cares?”

Don’t read if: you can’t stand rapiers, salt bombs, skulls in jars, lockets, or that one guy who always eats all the donuts.

 

Horns–Guest Review by Drew!

Quick note from Two: This is the first guest post! Everybody give a warm (ish) welcome to Drew, who was so very kind to do this for me. Also, it’s a movie review.

Directed by Alexandre Aja
Written by Keith Bunin
Adapted from the novel by Joe Hill
Rated R (for myriad valid reasons)

Even though this film was released in 2013, I only just now got the pleasure of viewing it. It isn’t just that it’s something so new and so different from what we, as an audience, are used to, but that it’s a treatise on human nature.

Daniel Radcliffe gives a startlingly gritty performance as the grizzled Ig Parrish, whose girlfriend died under, shall we say, mysterious circumstances. Blamed for her murder and branded by the media, his friends and family, and the justice system, Ig is left to an existence of booze and self loathing.

But one day, something strange happens. Ig awakens to discover that he’s grown a pair of horns during the night. It isn’t just the horns, but the sway they hold over people: In their presence, the people around Ig are compelled to tell him their deepest, darkest thoughts. Originally, this startles and confuses the poor man, but after a time he resolves to use his new-found powers to suss out his girlfriend’s murderer.

Ig’s mission takes him to the very depths of the human soul as people he once knew and loved reveal to him their most disturbing sides. But what is Ig’s true intent? Is it a need for justice or vengeance that truly drives him? Can he overcome his own demon (both literally and figuratively) to make things right? And perhaps the greatest question: Can a force for evil be used to defeat evil?

Not only is this an engrossing tale with elements of drama, dark comedy, and a strong emotional core, but it is an examination of people and their intentions. It takes a deeper and unrelenting view into the nature of man, the soul, and the driving need to demonize (literally) that which we do not understand.

I wouldn’t recommend this film for mass consumption. Many audiences, I believe, are simply not ready for it. However, if you enjoy a film that’s more off-the-beaten path, something new and different, I strongly suggest this movie make your watch list.

Favorite Line:

“People say you should always do the right thing, but sometimes there is no right thing. And then, you just have to pick the sin you can live with.”

Don’t watch if: you are a steady churchgoer, don’t like black comedy, or can’t bear to think of Daniel Radcliffe as anybody but Harry Potter.

 

Got a review idea of your own? Want to share a book, movie, or TV show you love with the Internet, where it can live forever? Head over to the Comments and Guest Reviews Page and let me know!

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale is a modern take on a Gothic novel–old houses, weird families, ghosts…

Vida Winter, the renowned and reclusive novelist, is dying. For decades she’s told stories about characters she created, and now she wants someone to tell hers. Margaret Lea, a little-known biographer and assistant shopkeeper, is asked to do the honors. Margaret agrees to do it, but not without reservations.

See, Vida’s never once been honest about her early years, not with anyone. The time before she was published is a mystery, because every time she’s interviewed, she changes her story–orphan, child of missionaries, grew up in India, grew up in Scotland, etc, etc. But by agreeing to tell Margaret three true, verifiable things–things she hasn’t shared before, but can still be proven–she gets Margaret’s reluctant acquiescence.

The story begins with a family. The Angelfields, of Angelfield House, are an odd bunch. Charlie Angelfield, the son and heir, is incredibly troubled and his sister Isabelle is in some ways even worse. In the fullness of time Isabelle gives birth to two children, twin girls named Adeline and Emmeline, and it is their story that matters.

This book is so good, you guys! It’s a little weird and very atmospheric–Vida’s house is quiet and remote; Margaret has her own personal ghost; the Angelfields have issues that make even me squirm a bit. It’s broody and haunting and if Ann Radcliffe was alive today she’d be clawing her own heart out in a fit of jealous rage.

If you like shadows, flames, trashy Gothic novels from days of yore, the idea of trashy Gothic novels from days of yore, mysteries, introspection, or sibling dynamics, pick up The Thirteenth Tale. You’ll be glad you did.

Favorite Line:

Once upon a time there was a fairy godmother, but the rest of the time there was none. This story is about one of those other times.

Don’t read if: you dislike baking, old houses, the Yorkshire moors, or topiary.