Tag Archives: Gothic

March Tea and a Book: The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

After a long drought, I finally found a book that captivated me, kept me glued to the pages until the end, and only took two days to read because I could hardly bear to put it down.

Goodreads synopsis:
In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate abandon the comforts of suburbia and their teaching jobs to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this charming property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago.

My thoughts
I am always drawn to “moving to the country/living off the land” sorts of stories because they are inherently full of conflict–internal and external–even without ghosts. In the case of this book, I loved the notion of building a haunted house, for that’s what Helen ends up doing as she incorporates historical artifacts and materials into her home design. (The fact that the home site lies near a rather mystical and creepy bog makes it all the better.)

The cast of characters is rather large, but each individual is distinct and, in most cases, seamlessly woven into the story. I really appreciated that the characters’ behavior–be it thoughtful, reckless, or downright avoidant–pushed the plot forward, and though there were surprises, everything made sense in the end. Some horror stories show characters driving themselves insane and wrecking all their relationships in pursuit of “the truth,” bringing catharsis through spectacularly messy implosion. That can be interesting, of course, but I appreciated how the characters in this story learned from mistakes, clued in to nuances, and generally tried to be their best selves once they knew what was at stake.

Now for tea:
To pair with spooky books, I prefer simple, cozy snacks. I baked easy, delicious Irish White Scones from a mix by Odlums, “Ireland’s favorite home baking brand.” Do check the link–they have such a wide variety of scrumptious mixes. I happened to find this mix at World Market, and I do hope Odlums will make more of their products available in the U.S. For tea I chose Paris Breakfast from Mariage Freres, containing “notes of honey, malted-chocolate, vanilla, buttered brioche, and candied tangerine.” I added a splash of milk and just a bit of Turbinado sugar.

I ate my scone with fresh berries but they’d also be perfect with fruit jam and butter or clotted cream. The scones were very light and fluffy, not too sweet, with a nice crunch to the crust. Best of all, they were SO EASY to make.

A final mystery:
Readers, 2020 has been a struggle for me so far, as it’s proven well nigh impossible for me to finish a book. I started several promising stories, but with each one I lost interest by the halfway point.

The hardcover of The Invited released at the end of April, 2019, and I have no idea how it ended up in my possession. I never ordered it. I didn’t put it on any wishlist. I never sought it out at a bookstore, as far as I can remember. It simply wasn’t on my radar. One day, however, I looked up and saw it on my shelf. SPOOKY.

If one of my pals out there sent it to me, or was with me when I bought it, would you let me know? If no one responds, I’ll just have to assume that the universe took it upon itself to end my reading drought by delivering the right book at the right time. 🙂

Friends, what do YOU do when stuck in a reading rut?

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Featured image credit: File ID 126446344 | © Dabisik | Dreamstime.com

Part II: Ghostly and Gothic SPOOKY films

Oh, how I love a good GHOST film! Ghosts and/or related paranormal entities feature in each of the following recommendations.

All film synopses are from imdb.com.


The Wind (2018) — Rated R
A plains-woman faces the harshness and isolation of the untamed land in the Western frontier of the late 1800s. This film, written and directed by women, is visually arresting and emotionally harrowing. It’s also non-linear and requires active viewing. I’ve long been captivated by pioneer narratives and the “romance” of homesteading, but this film really brought home how difficult such a life could be. It also added a lovely Gothic twist to the mix. I will watch this one again.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 66


Don’t Leave Home (2018) — Not Rated
An American artist’s obsession with a disturbing urban legend leads her to an investigation of the story’s origins at the crumbling estate of a reclusive painter in Ireland. This one had me at “crumbling estate”! I’ve never encountered a story quite like this, and I can’t tell you too much about it without spoiling. It’d be better if you just watched so we can talk about it later. This is another one I plan to see again.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 65


Astral (2018) — Rated TV-MA
A detached university student faces the consequences of astral projection when he uses it to reconnect with his dead mother. This is not your glossy, high-budget sort of horror film, and all the user reviews on IMDB indicate that no one liked it. But I had to watch because I’m rather obsessed with the narrative potential of astral projection. Also, the lead actor played Tom Riddle and is the RADA-trained son of Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones, and much more). Viewing this required patience, but the story eventually builds into something rather dramatic. I thought it was worth watching and I enjoyed the fact that most of the action takes place at Royal Holloway. (Do I need to watch Fear the Walking Dead now?)
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / No Metascore


Haunted (Hjemsøkt) (2017) — Not Rated
After her father’s death Catherine travels back to her old family estate in winter time Norway. When locals start telling stories of disappearances and possible murders, she is forced to confront her family’s mysterious past. There’s nothing particular ground-breaking about this ghost story–it doesn’t have any special bells or whistles–but I loved it all the same. The Norwegian setting is gorgeous. (Just look at that still above.) The lead actress is a pleasure to watch. The story held my attention to the very end, and I look forward to watching it again. I have one quibble that I’m longing to discuss, so do let me know if you watch.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / No Metascore


Clara’s Ghost (2018) — Not Rated
Set over the course of a single evening in the Reynolds family home in suburban Connecticut, Clara’s Ghost tells the story of Clara Reynolds who, fed up with constant ribbing from her self-absorbed showbiz family, finds solace in and guidance from the supernatural force she believes is haunting her. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I started watching this. It features a hilariously dysfunctional family of actors who decide to gather in order to torment each other AND celebrate their dog’s birthday. Bad behavior ensues. This is another film written and directed by a woman, and I absolutely love the fact that it was a family project. I look forward to Bridey Elliot’s next film.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 66

BONUS! Ghostly films I enjoy watching again and again:
The Haunting (1963) — Previously discussed here.
The Changeling (1980) — Previously discussed here.
The Others (2001)
The Eclipse (2009) — Previously discussed here (scroll all the way down)
The Awakening (2011) — Previously discussed here.
The Conjuring (2013)

Part I: Family Friendly SPOOKY Films

I’m launching this year’s festivities with a few movies the whole family might enjoy. Please check the Parental Guide for each title. If you’re new to the blog and have younger children, you might check my 2016 post that includes solidly PG films, and don’t forget last year’s family viewing options. If you have tweens and teens interested in watching horror, the following options might appeal. Of course, you are the best judge of what your kids can or can’t handle in a scary film.

PLEASE NOTE: if you crave 500 jump scares per film, you may be disappointed by my recommendations. For more context on this, check out Chris Stuckmann’s youtube video, The Problem with Horror Movies Today–he makes a great point.

As usual, all film synopses are from imdb.com.


The Hole in the Ground (2019) — Rated R (not sure why?)
A young mother living in the Irish countryside with her son suspects his increasingly disturbing behavior is linked to a mysterious sinkhole in the forest, and fears he may not be her son at all. This is a bit slow to start, perhaps, but your patience will be rewarded. You’ll also be pleased to see the ubiquitous and always delightful James Cosmo. This film is both familiar and unique, and I loved the setting.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / IMDB Parental Guide /
Metascore: 63


Wait Till Helen Comes (2016) — Rated TV-14
When a reconstructed family moves to a converted church in the country, 14-year-old Molly, must save her new troubled step-sister from a dangerous relationship with the desperate ghost of a young girl. Raise your hand if you loved this book by Mary Downing Hahn! I’ve read it twice, and I thought this adaptation was pretty strong–spooky and tense without being gruesome, vulgar, or gratuitously violent. Great family fare, but not recommended for the little ones.
Watch the trailer / Options for Viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / No metascore


The Witch in the Window (2018) — Not rated
When Simon brings his twelve year-old son, Finn, to rural Vermont to help flip an old farmhouse, they encounter the malicious spirit of Lydia, a previous owner. And now with every repair they make – she’s getting stronger. This is my favorite of the family viewing options, and it’s one of my favorite spooky movies viewed this year. It’s so wonderfully character-driven and felt like I was getting a view into the world of a real family–a family I cared deeply about. Speaking of jump scares, there’s a well-earned one that made me squeak!
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / No Metascore

Perhaps best for 14-up due to language & violence:


The Dark (2005) — Rated R
In mourning over the tragic drowning of their daughter Sarah, James and Adèle are visited by Ebrill, a young girl who claims she died 60 years ago – and bears a startling resemblance to Sarah. Maria Bello and Sean Bean (!) star in this dark and creepy mystery set on the Welsh coast (but shot in Ireland, of course). It’s a good-looking film with lots of cool Gothic trappings, and yet a bit darker than the options listed above. Based on the novel Sheep, by Simon Maginn.
Watch the Trailer / Options for viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / No Metascore


Summer of ’84 — Not Rated
After suspecting that their police officer neighbor is a serial killer, a group of teenage friends spend their summer spying on him and gathering evidence, but as they get closer to discovering the truth, things get dangerous. Very reminiscent of Stranger Things, this film offers mystery and thrills without the paranormal content. Fair warning: crude language and teen boy humor abound, and the finale is grim.
Watch the Trailer / Options for Viewing / IMDB Parental Guide / Metascore: 57

Stay tuned for ghostly film recommendations!

August Tea and a Book: A Gluttony of Gothic Mysteries

Quick take: After weeks of “comfort” reading (see more here), I had a sudden and powerful appetite for spooky Gothic. These four novels were just what I was craving, and I DEVOURED them in a matter of days. (Many thanks to Myra and Melissa for recommendations!)

Goodreads synopses:
The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware. On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.
My thoughts: I listened to the audio and Imogen Church’s vocal performance is terrific–just what I needed for a 10 hour drive from TN to OK. This story is very reminiscent of Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, with an extra boost of Gothic atmosphere and tension.

The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths. Forensic archaeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway is in her late thirties and lives happily alone with her two cats in a bleak, remote area near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants—not quite earth, not quite sea. But her routine days of digging up bones and other ancient objects are harshly upended when a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach.
My thoughts: This story is a Gothic-tinged procedural mystery with an appealing heroine, told in a very engaging 3rd person present POV. (Really, it WORKED.) I could not put this book down, and I’m so thrilled to have been introduced to Elly Griffiths, who has written scads of novels under two different names. Huzzah!

The Stranger Diaries, by Elly Griffiths. Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. A high school English teacher specializing in the Gothic writer R. M. Holland, she teaches a course on it every year. But when one of Clare’s colleagues and closest friends is found dead, with a line from R. M. Holland’s most famous story, “The Stranger,” left by her body, Clare is horrified to see her life collide with the storylines of her favourite literature.
My thoughts: As a former high school English teacher, I loved the premise, setting, and characterization in this standalone novel. The story is told through multiple narratives, both straightforward 1st person and diary entries, and I love how the reader is offered at least two different takes on most of the major events in the plot.

The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware. When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family. What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare… My thoughts: As you might have guessed, this is a modern take on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Very clever and creepy, though I should admit that I didn’t fall in the love with the protagonist. Perhaps that’s to be expected in this sort of story? As a former nanny, I could easily identify with Rowan’s stress and worry, and the “smart” house setting was skin-crawlingly creepy. Great read!


Now for tea:
Since these are the sort of books one stays up late reading, it seemed appropriate to offer an herbal option. I chose “Little Dickens” from Bellocq: “A chocolate-kissed blend that is loved by all, this caffeine-free tisane is blended from organic, fair trade South African rooibos, vanilla, soothing mint, and cinnamon. This treat calms jitters, settles tummies, soothes the soul, and does so especially well when served with milk and honey.” Find more details here.


Gorgeous, isn’t it? Very tasty, too.

***What fiction have you been devouring lately? Anything to recommend?***

2018 Spooky Film Recs, Part IV: Family Viewing

For my final “Spooky Films” post, I’m offering some suggestions for family viewing. If you’re new to the blog and have younger children, you might check my 2016 post that includes solidly PG films. If you have tweens and teens interested in watching horror, the following PG/PG-13 options might appeal. Of course, you are the best judge of what your kids can or can’t handle in a scary film.

As usual, all film synopses are from imdb.com.


Spirited Away (2001) — Rated PG
During her family’s move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts.
You’re all probably way ahead of me on this one. I’d heard about it for years but didn’t think it was my sort of thing. Then I watched with a friend and her kiddos. Gosh! Such a lovely, haunting, and spooky film. “No Face” (seen above in the middle) now numbers among my very favorite film characters. Those in the know — are there any other spooky anime films I should track down?
Watch the trailer / available on DVD only (from various retailers) / Metascore: 96
(the highest IMDB metascore of any film I’ve recommended!)
Goth-o-Meter: medium-ish?


Down a Dark Hall (2018) — PG-13
A troubled teen named Kit Gordy is forced to join the exclusive Blackwood Boarding School, just to find herself trapped by dark forces around its mysterious headmistress, Madame Duret.
This one had me at “all-female boarding school.” Fans of Lois Duncan should get a kick out of it — the setting is properly Gothic and the cast (featuring Uma Thurman with a believable French accent) is strong. The atmosphere oozes with old-fashioned menace, but the students bring a modern edge to the “haunted boarding school” narrative. Lots of drama and even a little romance.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 56
Goth-o-Meter: high


Our House (2018) — PG-13
A young genius accidentally invents a device that amplifies the paranormal activity within his family’s house, possibly bringing back the spirits of loved ones, and unleashing things far worse.
I like a little technology with my ghosts, especially when accidental contact occurs. The pacing in this one isn’t without its problems, but I found the family very appealing and right away I cared about their safety. You might call this a “modern domestic ghost story,” and I like that it offers mystery and chills without going too far with jump scares or violence.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 45
(the lowest metascore of all my recs, but I really did think this was worth watching!)
Goth-o-Meter: medium to high


Beautiful Creatures (2013) — PG-13
Ethan longs to escape his small Southern town. He meets a mysterious new girl, Lena. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history and their town.
I read this book when it first came out and quite enjoyed it, but the trailers for the film turned me off. It all just looked waaaay over-the-top. But when I was searching for films to watch this year, this one came up again and again as a strong option. After all, it does have an incredible cast–Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Eileen Atkins and Emma Thompson–but it’s Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert who make this movie work. If you can get past Ehrenreich’s Forrest Gump-voiceover at the beginning, you’ll see what I mean. They are both sympathetic and have great chemistry together. Yes, there are outrageous moments in this film, but overall I found it intriguing and satisfying — including the (somewhat abrupt) ending.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 52
Goth-o-Meter: high


Happy Death Day (2017) — PG-13
A college student must relive the day of her murder over and over again, in a loop that will end only when she discovers her killer’s identity.
As I’ve said before, I don’t enjoy slasher films unless they are quirky and/or funny. This horror spin on Groundhog Day was exactly what I was looking for. I’ve seen it characterized as “relentlessly violent,” but I assure you that there’s not much blood/gore at all, and though the film does get the pulse racing, the tone is playful. It’s along the lines of the SCREAM movies, but with much less blood.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 57
Goth-o-Meter: low

Here’s a list of other PG-13 Horror options, though I’m kind of horrified that The Ring is included. That one really got to me–I enjoyed it, but it’s more at the “disturbing” end of the spooky continuum. There are moments in that film I wish I could unsee.

Also keep in mind that two of the films mentioned earlier in my 2018 recs are PG-13 — A Quiet Place and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The Endless is unrated, but I think it would be appropriate for teens and mature tweens.

That’s it for 2018, folks! Happy Horror Viewing and REMEMBER, if at any point you wish to browse previous spooky film recs (going all the way back to 2012), click the tag “spooky film recs” in the list below–or in the sidebar–and scroll to your heart’s content.