Halloween Reading Challenge

(For those reading this looking for my free-for-all Friday post: Please check back on Saturday!)

Halloween is here, and I forgot that I’d signed up for a reading challenge called RIP III. It’s good bookish fun through Halloween, and I joined in because I had the perfect book: Elizabeth Engstrom’s The Northwoods Chronicles.

I hadn’t read a spooky book in awhile, so this was perfect.

Yet, I do have a history with scary fiction. I read my first Stephen King when I was 14, and thereafter spent the rest of adolescence terrifying myself.

I just had a memory: My mother, who was never one to give gifts outside birthday and Christmas, enters my room one night. Picture me cuddled on my waterbed (because I was diagnosed with scoliosis, I swear!) perhaps reading “The Exorcist” or the latest Peter Straub. “I thought you might like to give this book a try,” she says, and hands me a collection of humorous short stories. Humor?!?! I was so far from humor you might as well have nominated me poster-girl for hormonally induced angst, moodiness, and depression!

So, yes, I have a history with the creepy, but I don’t read them much anymore. I’m glad to say that Engstrom’s The Northwoods Chronicles led me through her haunting northwoods universe with a ton of artistry and no gratuitous shlock.

The creepy factor is enhanced by her minimalist writing style. Disappearing children, killer wax statues, murderers, and mermaids inhabit her universe with the same quiet poise as her grieving mothers and college students. It’s all the same reality, and this is a big reason for the creep-factor.

As the cover states, The Northwoods Chronicles is a “novel in stories.” I liked meeting and re-meeting her characters in different contexts. I also liked that she preferred ambiguity over perfect plot bows.

I’ve been interested in the concept of linked short stories for awhile. Reading Engstrom’s novel in stories, I realized that she made it look easy. The secret, as she told me, is to create a full-fledged universe. Her universe fascinates.

(Okay, writing this in front of the telly, Thursday night. Just flipped the channel and found “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Talk about memories: midnight showings, yes, during high school. You’re probably not surprised to know that San Francisco loved its Rocky Horror midnight showings!)

RIP III: Spooky Reading

Saw this on Literate Kitten’s blog: There’s a reading challenge in process called RIP III. It’s good bookish fun through Halloween, and I decided to join in because I have the perfect book: Elizabeth Engstrom’s The Northwoods Chronicles.

I admit that my reason for joining an online reading challenge is to pass the word along about her newly published novel. Anything to help a friend!!!

I also look forward to reading the book reviews from the other participants. They’ll be posted here.

Here’s the starred Publisher’s Weekly review to entice your interest:

“Dark fantasy writer Engstrom (Black Leather) starts on familiar ground, but rapidly turns this ‘novel in stories’ into a genre-blending exploration of love, aging, grief and sacrifice. In Vargas County, children under 12 occasionally vanish, but the locals have long viewed this as a tithe taken by the town in exchange for the happiness of the other residents. This theme is explored directly in stories like ‘House Odds,’ in which real estate agent Julia has to decide if her grandchildren would be in greater danger in town or away with their drunken father. Other tales merely use the disappearances as a backdrop, such as ‘Skytouch Fever,’ in which aging Sadie Katherine is forced to choose between her steadfast beau and a rakish visitor, and the wittily ironic thriller ‘One Quiet Evening in the Wax Museum.’ Fast-paced, melancholy and beautiful, the overarching narrative binds a collection of good stories into a superb if unconventional novel.”