Welcome to my fifth annual Halloween reading list! These titles are not technically horror, as I can’t really abide horror. Gives me nightmares. I promise, though, that they are all eminently readable, with elements of the macabre that make them appropriate for this most deviant of holidays. If you’d like more, check out my previous posts from 2011, here and here, 2012, 2013 and 2014. I typically try to include a classic, something for younger readers, and more current titles. This year it is a mix, with two classics, a series of graphic novels, a series that may or may not be YA or Middle Grade, depending on the reader, but which is delicious for adults as well, and three current titles. I cannot recommend highly enough The Library at Mount Char. It is my spotlight title of the year, so far. There’s still time to get your hands on some of these and settle down with a spooky read for Halloween!
Pride and Prejudice with Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Graham-Smith
I have stated in a previous Halloween article that I didn’t like zombies. When this took off a few years ago, I kind of ignored it. But recently, I’ve been inundated with Jane Austen references: I’ve reviewed two books about her and her work for Library Journal, and I’ve found numerous articles online that I just happen to come across. I also have not read all her works, but I have read Pride and Prejudice. I often confuse it with Jane Eyre, but Wuthering Heights was always my favorite of that ilk anyway. I think that I will have to round out the oeuvre soon, but what they did here was just cheeky enough to be taken seriously. The reimagined scenes may grab your attention, starting with the riff on the famous opening line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” Hey, that’s what happens when things go into public domain.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman
I’ve been reading these for a couple of years. Okay, yeah yeah, you probably know all about this series. I simply can’t believe that it took me this long to find it. I discovered Sandman when I went to my first Con. I already knew that I liked Neil Gaiman, on the basis of The Graveyard Book. And I heard all this raving about Sandman. What’s the big deal? Oh, it’s only perhaps the most imaginative re-telling of the crowd of deities and/or Undead that actually control our fates. I love Death – she’s a badass. I love the Sandman himself. I love the rules and how they are broken. Beware, this is a long haul. It’s a series of 15 graphic novels that were published in the 90s. Oh, if only I could go back and read these without all the clutter of all the derivative stuff that’s been published since then, that I thought was original. Again, Gaiman is a, well, he wouldn’t want me to call him a god. Let’s just say he’s utterly breathtaking. And Sandman is spellbinding. If you cannot find this or the idea of a graphic novel turns you off, try Good Omens. Co-written with Terry Pratchett, it is a delightful dystopian, complete with demon child.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
This book is full of so many inventive ways to kill someone, so much blood and gore, that actually about halfway through I kind of became immune to it. The story was so good that I just glazed right over all that baking alive, all that torture, all the explosions and so on. I just wanted to find out what happened. The reason I thought this would be appropriate for Halloween, though it’s not strictly horror, is that the premise is that there is this one man, one supreme being (though, to his eternal irritation, he did not create the Earth), who is capable of creating life from death, who can manipulate time, who works from ash and dust, and through most of the story, he’s missing. Just what would that be like, then? It’s fascinating. What’s even better is what happens at the end. And then, of course, there’s the Library. I have talked to this author on GoodReads and he promises no sequel. So savor this one. Not quite sci-fi, not quite fantasy, it’s a speculative fiction feast.
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series
by Ransom Riggs
The final book in this series has just come out (Library of Souls), which as we know is a godsend when starting a series. You don’t have to wait for the new one! I had heard of this when it started, and it kept cropping up on my radar, so with the release of the third book I thought I’d check it out. It was a great series. I found it fairly imaginative, and unique in that it incorporates vintage photos into the story. Each photo is of a character in the book (or each character is modeled after a vintage photo). There are so many twists and turns in this series that you will never, never guess how it finally ends up. I loved Jacob and Emma, and even some of the creepy “bad” guys, like Sharon, who shows up in the final book. I also loved the imaginative peculiarities of the children, the way Jacob grows and changes, and the very real conundrum that he finds himself in. This whole series kept me up late, and was just creepy enough. I think that this would be appropriate for younger than YA on up. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City
The Uninvited by Cat Winters
This is her first novel and she has the endorsement of none other than our own Wendy Webb, so how could I resist? Actually, I found Cat on Twitter and she mentioned that ARCs were available of her novel, so I went for it. This was not as creepy as I thought it would be. The main thrust of the story is women empowering themselves, in various ways. It’s a nice historical, dealing with World War I, the Spanish influenza, and women’s place in society. It does have a creepy vibe now and then, with the Uninvited Guests of the title, which are the dearly departed that our main character sometimes sees. So if you like women’s fiction, this would be a great Halloween read.
Gossamer Ghost by Laura Childs
I loved the setting of this, and the craft aspect of it, and the two main characters, best friends who are out to have fun. And there were enough dead bodies and dangerous situations to make this a slightly scary cozy mystery. If you want to take a quick trip to New Orleans, and get to know a gal who is making her way, with a hunky detective boyfriend to boot, check this out. Bonus that this is set during Halloween season, so we do get a bit of dressing up, a masquerade ball, and a parade.
The Shadow of Ashlydyat by Mrs. Henry Wood
I’ve not been able to find a copy of this, but it was recommended in a story with a list of scary titles. It is an old title, written in Victorian times. If perhaps you come across it, I would love to hear an opinion of it! I don’t expect that it would match up to current titles in terms of fright but I have seen it mentioned as a seminal book of the genre. The fright factor early on tends to be more on the psychological side rather than the gore evident (for example, Dracula).
Note: I won’t often do book reviews on this blog, but I have pulled this from my Examiner column, as I couldn’t bear to break the streak. I will no longer be writing there as the Minneapolis Books Examiner. Check back soon for news of my all-new all-books blog!