Need a good book that will send chills up your spine? I have a great selection this year! If you are not familiar with my Halloween Reads posts, I have been doing this since 2010 (first on Examiner.com, where I was the Minneapolis Books Examiner, and now on my own blog. Look for links at the end to these past posts for more recs!). I love it when the weather turns chilly and gloomy, leaves blowing across the grass, and a slight mist in the air. Join me! I’ll wait while you get your hot beverage of choice, a pumpkin latte? A hot cider? Good old hot chocolate? Mulled wine? Here we go!
Quick recap: these are not horror. I don’t have the nerves for that. I try to find a couple different genres, but really, I just post whatever I find that appeals to me!
Let’s start with a classic!
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I read this as part of a readalong on Instragram, and that was just the encouragement I needed. This was much creepier than I had anticipated. I got the witty banter that I expected, especially from Henry. But his monologues got a little long. It was Dorian that I liked. Until… oh boy. Dorian, you poor misled sap. It is a period piece, just remember that, with a fascinating premise, that becomes all consuming. The basic plot sails along, with poor Dorian growing more and more degenerate by the chapter, and his picture becoming, well, hideous. You almost feel sorry for poor Dorian. It’s not his fault he’s beautiful. I never saw the ending coming, and I look forward to reading more of Oscar Wilde.
The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
Frankenstein? Yes, please. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of the classic monster story, so it is no surprise that there are retellings. I was able to see the author on a panel a short time ago, and after reading this book, I was not surprised to find that the schedule to publish it was rushed. It felt like it could have used a little more care. But editing aside, I do like the idea of telling this story from the point of view of a character that is often overlooked (overlooked? In fact, I had forgotten she existed!). This was an imaginative take on the story, and actually had a lot of insight into how women were treated at the time, especially in terms of their own personal license, inheritance, and how they could expect to live. Be careful what you wish for, Elizabeth! It was very intense, and was satisfying in the end. I’m sure it would appeal to folks who love the classic, and maybe bring some others in who haven’t read the original. And that’s always a good thing.
Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning
This is a different kind of retelling! What if Sherlock were actually possessed by demons? What is Lestrade were a vampire? And so on… all delivered with dry witty humor, nonstop. Dr. Watson takes it upon himself to help poor Warlock, who is clearly in over his head, and could use a little aid. Well. A lot of aid. This is a solid, fun, innovative retelling. Whether or not you are familiar with one of literature’s greatest detectives, you will enjoy this slight off-kilter look at how a demon gets a roommate, and attempts to become worthy of his reputation. If you are a Sherlock fan, you will find it uproariously funny. Those little quirks of our detective are magnified and played out like the best classic comedy. The stories follow a similar trajectory as the originals, but you won’t see the punchline coming until it hits you square between the eyes. Denning has captured the essence of the period, as well as the characters, in this spoof. There are more in the series, too, and I’ll be on the hunt for those. Bwahahaha!
The Middle Grade authors are killing it this year (no pun intended… well, okay, maybe a little pun). This is a selection of a few that I have come across.
The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler
Not necessarily scary (for adults), but very tense! Dreams and Nightmares, what more could you ask for? This was a crazy thrill-ride of imagination. Around every corner, there was a different scenario, with different rules, that threatened our three siblings and the folks that were trying to help them. But we never lost sight of the true aim – to change their mom back from a bird. With her memory intact. This is no small order, and the perils that had to be overcome to get there are immense. The rules are different in Dreamland, and more so in the Wicked Places. There are any number of ways to get snuffed. “Dead in Dreamland, dead in the real world.” You will root for Nell, you will scream at her – “Don’t do it!” and you will follow her around every twist and turn. This overlooked title deserves more attention. It is Gaiman-esque, in the best possible way, with threats that dreams are made of, and of course, as in all the best stories, some truths scattered throughout.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I put this off for a long time, because I started to watch the movie once and it didn’t grab me. I then got a lovely edition illustrated by Chris Riddell, and I read the book. This is a children’s book? Oh my. There are some seriously scary moments in here, particularly if a child has an attachment issue. I would only recommend this for children who are very secure with their parents! That said, it is in the best vein of Gaiman. Button eyes, secret doors, and all kinds of mayhem await a child who is simply bored. I went back and watched the movie, and I think it is even creepier than the book. I was startled by the absolutely lack of attention that the real parents pay to Coraline. Not really an endearing portrait of them. But maybe that’s the point. This is a eerie, deliciously dark story that is among Gaiman’s best.
The Collectors by Jacqueline West
There are some really scary moments in this adventure story of a secret society that collects not only wishes, but the beings that feed on them. What if any wish could come true? Can a wish be dangerous? What if you could collect wishes? I am a great fan of Jacqueline West, and highly recommend her Books of Elsewhere series for additional shivers. Again, she hits it out of the park here with her darling main character, Van, and his propensity for noticing things. Like a girl stealing pennies out of a fountain, and the silver squirrel she is talking to. Van has a hearing disability, and I love that this did not hinder him, mostly. He may be who he is “because” of his disability, and not in spite of it. He finds himself in peril because he is simply a kid who wants everything to be all right. But when you play with wishes, anything can happen.
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
I devoured this in one evening! I don’t do that often, even with Middle Grade. This is Schwab’s first MG novel, and she hit all the right notes. It is a wonderful, creative, fantastical story where all the pieces slot into place, the setting (Edinburgh) is perfect, characters are involved in real relationships, and the mystery has you guessing until the very last pages. With parents who are ghost hunters, how can Cassie help it that she is also someone who can visit beyond the Veil? An old legend, cemeteries, and the rules of interacting with the realm of the Veil make this a perfect spooky read. I love Cassie, and her friend Jacob, the sweet sod, and this has me clamoring for the next one in the series. I can’t wait to see where Cassie and Jacob go next!
I hope you like this selection! If you are looking for more Halloween Reads, I’ve got several other posts with round-ups of spooky reads. Check it out here and here and here. Or you can start with last year’s post and just work backward. All the links are contained in that one. Let me know if you have a favorite spooky read that I haven’t covered yet!