29 October 2015

Spine-chilling Reads for this October: The Stuff of Nightmares!

If there is one maxim about books that every book-lover knows and agrees to, it is this: The book is always better than the movie! The reason is quite simple, really. The words in a book are fodder for that thing in our mind that is rarely ever in our control - our imaginations! What we can conjure up in our imaginations is much more thrilling than anything man can represent through the visual medium. 

This is more true than when you are reading the horror genre. There is something about horror that pulls you in, against your own good sense. This happens to me all the time. In the course of reading a horror novel, I keep jumping at every little sound or movement around me, and am convinced that some horrible creature is hiding behind every curtain, chair and darkened door. The minute I finish the book, I tell myself, "Never again!" And then I go to the library, and the Stephen Kings and the Dean Koontz' start calling out to me, and I cave and borrow another 800 pages of fear and regret!

So, 'Misery' loves company (get it?) and I am passing on these horror gems to you too. Here are a few novels that made me afraid of my own shadow for a really long time. Enjoy!

1. Lisey's Story, Stephen King: What is a list of horror fiction, without the king of horror himself? I
was watching a talk that Stephen King gave some students, and in it he says that people always ask him about his childhood to find out what trauma could have messed up his brain so badly. He claims that nothing happened, but I have to humbly disagree. That man has a very active imagination, I accept. But that level of 'messed up' has to be purely certifiable trauma! Just saying... Lisey's Story is another one of King's novels that I feel has a lot of him in it. It's the story of Scott Landon, a successful novelist, as recollected by Lisey Landon, his widow. Along with her, we peek into the history of mental illness that riddles Landon, his brother and his father that ultimately led to the death of the latter two. We also see the "other world" that Scott has created, to deal with the traumatic incidents in his life. If the creatures in "Boo'ya Moon" don't give you the heebie-jeebies, I don't know what will! By the way, I am reading King's Duma Key right now, and already mentally prepared to kiss goodbye to nightmare-free sleep.

2. The Visitation, Frank Peretti: Ghosts and demons are all scary enough, but throw in some
religion and it downright freaks me out! This is one of those novels that made me feel so unsafe for more than a week. The protagonist of the novel is former pastor and now drunken recluse Jordan Travis, who is disillusioned with the church and its hypocrisy, and shuns everyone in his little town. A series of miracles (weeping statues, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing and the wheelchair-ridden walking) sets the tone for the arrival of a man called Brandon Nichols who does not protest when people call him the messiah. Apart from healing people, Nichols also has the eerie ability to find out what everyone in the town is up to, without even spying on them. Turns out he is in cahoots with the Devil himself, and has a couple of demons running around doing his dirty work for him. It now lies with the reluctant Travis to find out the secret past of Nichols, convince the town of the man's evil nature, and save the town from the wrath of this demonic man. The final reveal of how Nichols became what he is, is too scary to read or recount. Please do not read unless your religious convictions, whatever they may be, are really strong. I'm serious.

3. Dean Koontz: Though his stories are not outright paranormal and supernatural like King's novels, Dean Koontz's books can be every bit bloodcurdling. I think he is seriously underrated as a horror writer. I am including 3 of his books here, because they are really gripping and fast-paced, and Koontz's story-telling skills are better than most others in his genre. 

From the Corner of His Eye: The first book of Koontz that I read, this book has one of the most malevolent villains that the horror genre has seen. Enoch Cain Jr. is first introduced to us trekking up a mountain with his girlfriend who he adores. It's a romantic walk uphill, and when they finally reach the top, he pushes her off a cliff, killing her in cold blood! There are a lot of other characters in this novel, but Enoch is the one that gave me nightmares. He is a psychopath in every sense of the word, and often there is no rhyme or reason for his malevolent behavior. His unprovoked anger combined with extreme physical strength chills the blood of everyone who comes across him, and one has to wonder what it would be like meeting an actual person like that. No one gets out alive, I'm guessing.

4. False Memory: Imagine being afraid of your own self... Koontz fast-paced and gripping narrative forces us to experience the abject terror of people with various crippling phobias. They imagine sinister beings hanging around their homes, are afraid of stepping out of their homes, or are terrified of the cutlery  in their own kitchens. I thought I would be less afraid of the phenomenon when I found out that it was just hypnosis. But then I freaked out thinking that there were people around who had the power to shut down the minds of intelligent normal folk and misuse or abuse the poor things for their twisted pleasure... Brrrhhh!!

5. The Eyes of Darkness: This is the latest Dean Koontz that I read, and I have to say, it simply gets better. Interesting thing, though, is that this was
one of his earlier works, written under the pseudonym of Leigh Nichols. A bunch of kids go on a camping trip with their teacher, and are all killed in an accident. Among them is Danny, the son of Tina Evans, who died in that accident up in the woods, when he was just 12 years old. One day Tina has a nightmare where Danny comes alive, and she wakes up with her heart pounding. Soon after she finds the words "Not Dead" written on a chalk board that has been toppled over in her son's hitherto undisturbed room. There is one scene where the housekeeper hears a really eerie high-pitched sound coming from the boy's room and goes in to find the room literally freezing over. The characters constantly get the feeling that some sinister presence is lurking in the shadows and watching them. Although Koontz gives us a plausible explanation for it all, it still did nothing to calm the hyperventilation I experienced while reading this story!  

6. Deception Point, Dan Brown: This book came as a nice surprise to me, just when I was beginning to have enough of Dan Brown and his symbolism. Deception Point was literally a case of "don't judge a book by its cover" moment for me! Deception Point is a political+sci-fi thriller and calling it a page-turner would be an understatement. Every page has suspense, twists, and the heart-pounding that Dan Brown is known for. Plot points? Well, suffice to say that scientists find definitive evidence of alien life. And when I say 'definitive evidence', you know that Dan Brown has the magical ability to smudge all the lines between reality and fiction, and make us question our very basic knowledge and beliefs regarding our whole existence!! That's what he does here! Read it! It'll drive you bonkers!

7. Neanderthal, John Darnton: Ever heard of him? This was the first time I had heard his name, and
I was not prepared for the level of suspense in this book. A scientist finds a tribe of actual neanderthals living somewhere in the mountains in Asia. (Wait... is that racist? Oh well, whatever). Anyway, this fact is not revealed straight away, and it takes the two protagonists a while to figure this out. Meanwhile their journey there is simply nerve-racking for the reader. Coming face to face with the neanderthals is also spine-chilling, as it would be if we actually met some real ones, I'd imagine! The book does drag into the second half. I expect that is because the most interesting part (finding the existence of neanderthals) is over, and now we just wait to see what modern humans are going to do with that information. I read some reviews on Goodreads and I have to say some of them where a bit ungenerous. Still, I liked it a lot because the theme was so new to me, and I thought Neanderthal should find a place on this list. Yes, I realize I am apologizing too much for this book!

8. The Next To Die, Kevin O'Brien: Someone is killing off gay people in Hollywood in the most gruesome ways possible and leaking the personal stories of the stars to the press. Dayle Sutton, a rising actress, is all set to play the role of a gay lawyer in her next movie. As she sees her gay friends being butchered in real life, and their personal lives butchered in the press, she wonders if she will be killed next. The parallel story is of a Hollywood couple who are the people's sweethearts but they have a sad marriage owing to the mental illness of the wife. The characterization is very realistic and the murders chilling enough to make it seem all too real in our minds. 

9. Flash Point, Metsy Hingle: Another new find for me, Metsy Hingle is a great storyteller who creates enough suspense to make us want to turn the
page in a hurry. She also creates detailed characters who become endearing with their quirky conversations and their tender romance. The story is so simple that the paranormal aspect of the story catches us off guard every time. Kelly Santos, a New York photographer, comes to her hometown when she hears that her favorite friend and mentor from her orphanage has died. She returns reluctantly, only to see a vision of the murder of a man. She goes to the police to warn them of the murder, but finds herself suspected of the same. Only homicide detective Jack Callaghan is willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Kelly is shy by nature, and what forces her to avoid people even more is the fact that every time she touches someone or something, she gets a vision of the past of the person or senses if they are in danger. Hingle springs Kelly's visions on us so suddenly that it sends us reeling, just as much as it does Kelly Santos. A good read with enough twists to keep us guessing.

10. The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe: Well, hello! There has to be Poe! The Raven is not a novel, I know. But you read that poem and tell me it doesn't give you the chills. A raven itself is quite an unsettling creature, with its dead eyes, pitch black feathers, and the potential to gouge your eyes out (Thanks a lot, Hitchcock!). And then it just sits outside Poe's window, and repeats "Nevermore" and then stares at him. I think it was Poe who single-handedly turned the raven into a quintessential symbol of horror, thus completing the scary fauna selection for horror-movie directors everywhere. With the owl, the raven, shrieking bats, and the black cat, I think we have blood-curdling covered!

So there it is. 10 horror novels that gave me my worst case of neck-hair prickling, goose-bumps inducing, spine-chilling scares. Read at your own peril! Don't forget to enjoy...


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