I love a good, creepy story, and just when I think that I have run out of good ones to talk about, I find another gold mine in an author or series that I had not heard of yet, or something that I thought everyone knew about. This is my sixth annual Halloween Reads round-up, continuing over from my old book column on Examiner. Last year, they went defunct, so sadly, those articles are gone. But you can read my 2015 recs over on my other blog, Publishing Bones (because this blog was not up yet).
Photo credit: Mark Cassell
This year, I am heavy on the YA, but that’s okay. Each year, I try to cover a few different areas: a book or two for children, a Middle Grade (MG), a Young Adult (YA) and a classic. I sometimes throw in a mystery or a contemporary, depending on what catches my eye. This year, I feel like I’ve been steeped in YA, which is perfectly fine by me. I don’t have any particular children’s books recs this year, though I know there is a 20th anniversary edition of A Nightmare Before Christmas that came out in 2013, which is the poem Tim Burton originally wrote and upon which the movie was based. I also saw lots of good titles on the Candlewick Twitter feed. As for what I’ve been able to read, I’m going to start off with a wonderful MG, then a terrific YA!
The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee by Erin Petti
I loved this book! Everything about it – from the way the chapters were organized by scientific method, to the way that Thelma was determined to consider things from an intellectual perspective rather than let her emotions take over. She is a lovely protagonist and I loved how close she was to her family and her friends. I loved her note taking, how she reached for her notebook as an automatic reflex. We’ve got all the good ingredients here for a really scary story, too. Thelma’s dad runs an antique shop, and let’s just say there is one purchase he should have passed on! The box and the man and the creepy lady with the bun and the woods and the creepy little house! There were a few times when I was totally on the edge of my seat. When things go haywire, Thelma enlists the help of her friends who are in a paranormal society. I love the idea of a paranormal society, and how that all just fits in with what Thelma needs to discover. I am a big fan of stories that cover large time spans, and this one does it very well. We get to go back in history, and it affects everything in the present. And I love the fact that even though Thelma feels closer to her dad, she becomes closer to her mom in ways she had never anticipated. I got to meet the author at a book convention in October. She told us about the website affiliated with the book, where kids can conduct their own paranormal investigations. Pretty cool stuff! This is a delightful MG story, and I hope that we see more of Thelma Bee.
How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather
Many stories have been set in Salem and this has to be one of the best I’ve read. This is an excellent intense paranormal thriller – honestly, I don’t know how to classify it but it is solid. The MC’s family history parallels the author’s own family history, and maybe that is why it feels so authentic. If you have a penchant for witches and ghosts, you will love this. It is not only creepy, but follows our heroine on a voyage of self-discovery, which of course is the best kind of trip. Her life is turned upside down when she is forced to move from NYC to this small town, where her family name is suddenly suspect. She is supremely tested and really has to spin her head around to determine who she can trust. She doesn’t always choose correctly. I loved all the details about spells, and the specific details about Salem itself. And I have it on good authority that Samantha will be back in future adventures! She’s only 15 so we should have a ways to go. I loved her voice as a character – her snark, her sarcasm and her tenacity. I am so glad I picked this up this past week. I blazed through it in two nights. It was intense and thrilling and ultimately satisfying.
I have a couple of modern classic recommendations, thanks to Alison at Little Bookworm blog! She posted this beautiful pic and I just had to have it. There were descriptions of these on her account and I have paraphrased them here (all credit to Alison).
Susan Hill – three novellas
The Woman in Black – in which a a solicitor sent to clear up legal matters spies a mysterious woman at the funeral for the owner of Eel Marsh house. This poor solicitor has to stay on to sort things out in the lonely house, when the mist begins to creep up, cutting the house off from the rest of the world. (Psst that’s an Eel Marsh House candle! By William Joseph Candles.)
The Small Hand – Poor Adam Snow stumbles across the derelict old White House late one evening and decides to enter, only to be repelled when he feels a small hand creeping into his own. This is just the beginning of a series of odd experiences.
Printer’s Devil Court – A mysterious manuscript, terrifying medical experiments and secrets secrets secrets. This one sounds like just my cup of tea – Dickensonian with a touch of Shelley.
Alison posted this pic on her Instagram account (Go! Look for @littlebookwormig). They are beautiful books! She says they are special Susan Hill Collector’s Editions. There are more in the set.
Also thanks to Alison, I have been reminded of Stephen King. This pic of hers gives me the willies. If you haven’t read any Stephen King, I recommend starting with Salem’s Lot:
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
I read this when I was like 12. It was super creepy. It’s all about vampires who take over a town – I mean, the town turns into vampires. King excels at building up characters so that you really care about them, and then putting them in terrifying situations, and in some cases, making them terrifying. So that you are doubly traumatized, see? The most haunting image, after all these years, is the family in the trailer. Just. Oh. I have to say, after reading this and The Amityville Horror (see below), I am pretty much done with horror books. My head just creates scenes that are too scary. I have watched a few of the movies from King’s work, like Carrie and The Shining, and yep, I gotta stop there. But that’s just me. You, you go ahead and read them all!
You can find more recommendations in the Fortnight of Fright feature over at The Book Addicts Guide, because I am sad I didn’t come up with the idea first! Two whole weeks of round-ups – whew! I’m too much of a chicken to read *actual* horror books, so if you like those, go on over to check out things like The Haunting of Hill House, etc. I can’t read them any more after reading The Amityville Horror when I was like 13. Saw red eyes everywhere for weeks! See, there’s two recs right there…
There are some books that just stay with you. I am dying (haha, dying, get it?) to return to the completely creepy aesthetic of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger – and I have been searching diligently for it. Another book that has stayed with me was The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian – just when you think you know how things are going to end… Also, the YA series The Hollow by Jessica Verday was very overlooked. I loved the vibe of that.
So if you are looking for a fantastically creepy read this Halloween, I hope that I have helped you out. I’m sad that I couldn’t link to my previous posts. They have gone on into the ether. So I may repost them here, if I can find the time this week. Stay tuned! If you have any suggestions for others, or comments on the above, please leave a comment!