Literally Dead: Tales of Halloween Hauntings by Gaby Triana

Review by staff writer and book blogger Renata Pavrey

Literally Dead is the first book in the holiday hauntings series, set around Halloween. Nineteen horror writers come together to create a collection of spooky tales for the Halloween season. There are stories about haunted dresses and shady bookstores, real-life monsters and costumed creatures, murder victims and ghostly insects, soldiers of war, and civilians affected by war. There are monsters in refrigerators, serial killers disguised as ghosts; suspicious postcards, and corn fields that harbour more than corn. We read about scavenger hunts to collect ghosts, and ghosts that teach us how to get rid of ghosts; physical entities, and demons of the mind. The crew of esteemed authors in the horror genre brings to us an assortment of stories under the theme of hauntings.

With such a narrow theme, I wondered what new ideas the writers would present for Halloween. But each one is outstanding in its own way. The collection covers a range of subjects from war to folklore, including genres of crime and contemporary fiction, with tones ranging from humor to out-and-out horror. Literally Dead brings together common Halloween tropes of haunted houses and spirits to beware of, costumes and candy, and memories associated with October 31st that have nothing to do with Halloween, and presents these well-worn concepts into a rich anthology of holiday horrors. I loved the touch of Chinese, Ukrainian and Welsh folklore and customs associated with Halloween, contemporary social issues and significant historic moments, nostalgia, and beauty associated with a season of darkness.

Some of my favorites were The Ghost Cricket by Lee Murray (a touch of Chinese folklore with a noisy cricket that refuses to be quiet even in death), The Ghost Lake Mermaid by Alethea Kontis (the ghosts of murder victims discuss racism and the law when the color of your skin decides if your corpse gets justice), Ghosts of Enerhodar by Henry Herz (the ghosts of Ukrainian folklore feature against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war), Halloween at the Babylon by Lisa Morton (a theatre patron tries to prevent other guests from becoming ghosts like herself), Ghosts of Candies Past by Jeff Strand (a quirky, sugary fest of long-eaten Halloween treats that return to haunt), Soul Cakes by Catherine McCarthy (the living and dead collide at a special time of the year, under the veil of Welsh folklore), Always October by Jeremy Megargee (about a ghost hunter on the lookout for her replacement).

Editor Gaby Triana has done a fabulous job in curating this anthology. A wonderful collection for the spooky season that keeps the reader wanting to read more. It feels like nineteen stories aren’t enough and thirty-one would have been just right – one for each day of the Halloween month. The cover has an old-fashioned vibe with costumed trick-or-treaters and pumpkin baskets, and I love how the book emphasizes the nostalgic aspect of Halloween. There’s a brilliant piece by the cover artist that makes for an equally good read, like the rest of the stories.

Some quotes:

-He didn’t believe in ghosts and haunted houses. Maybe they believed in him.

-You weren’t supposed to run up the stairs of a house that was disproving your assertion that it was not haunted.

-Thoughts crash into my head now; everything falls into place, a well-ordered avalanche.

-An old ghost once told me that if my story faded, I would fade with it.

-The ghostly insect set up a mournful song, the wistful notes as pure and sharp as a mountain stream.

-Are you running from ghosts, or are they running from you?

-Even death couldn’t tame her – if anything, it only seemed to make her more defiant.

-This tradition isn’t to appease her ghost. It’s to keep the ghost in her place.

-Alex had always been a ghost. Long before he died.

-I’d counted twenty-five casseroles. I wondered if they were some kind of charm or talisman. Bringing something not just to feed the grieving family, but to appease the ghosts.

My rating – 5/5

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