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Well, spooky season is officially over. Now I’m left floating in an empty abyss of nothingness. Not to sound super dark or anything. I just really love Halloween and I’m sad that it’s over.
The good news is I had a great reading month in October. In fact, it was quite possibly my best reading month this year. I read five novels, two novellas, one anthology, one graphic novel, and one short story. That’s ten full pieces! In one month! Who am I? A younger, more capable version of myself apparently.
Even better, the quality was overall fantastic. Most of the things I read this past month were 4 or 5 stars (with only two exceptions). After a year of thinking I’d just become bad at reading, I’ve finally returned to my former glory.
I spent October reading exclusively spooky books. Technically, I started by spookathon in September with Gideon the Ninth. If you want to hear about the other spooky books I read, check out my September wrap-up. If you want to hear about the spooky books I’ve read since, continue on!
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Summary: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie— magical, comforting, wise beyond her years— promised to protect him, no matter what.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.
My Thoughts: Despite not becoming a new favorite, I definitely appreciate this novella more than I’d initially expected. I love how it juxtaposes childhood truths and world views with adult ones and doesn’t discount the merit of either. I also really dig how the magic kind of just is. It’s as much as given as in stories like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, there matter-of-factly. I’m so glad I finally read this.
My Rating: 4/5
His Hideous Heart edited by Dahlia Adler
Summary: Thirteen of YA’s most celebrated names reimagine Edgar Allan Poe’s most surprising, unsettling, and popular tales for a new generation.
Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.
Contributors include Kendare Blake (reimagining “Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).
My Thoughts: My inner goth LOVES this anthology! I especially appreciate that it includes the original tales, as I hadn’t read some and it had been a while since I’d read others. The reimaginings are super diverse and many are OwnVoices. I kind of wish the book had been organized different, alternating between an original tale and its retelling. But I see why Adler organized it the way she did. If you’re a fan of Poe or just the macabre, definitely check out this anthology!
My Rating: 5/5
Monstress, Vol. 4: The Chosen by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Summary: Maika and Corvin make their way through a warped and lethal land in search of Kippa, who is faced with her own terrible monsters. But when Maika comes face-to-face with a stranger from her deep past, startling truths are uncovered, and at the center of it all lurks a dangerous conspiracy that threatens the Known World. Maika is finally close to getting all the answers she ever wanted, but at what price? With war on the horizon-a war no one wants to stop-whose side will Maika choose?
My Thoughts: Another great volume! Some serious bombs were dropped in this one (pun not intended). I cannot wait until volume 5 comes out!!!!!!
My Rating: 5/5
The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht
Summary: The city of Elendhaven sulks on the edge of the ocean. Wracked by plague, abandoned by the South, stripped of industry and left to die. But not everything dies so easily. A thing without a name stalks the city, a thing shaped like a man, with a dark heart and long pale fingers yearning to wrap around throats. A monster who cannot die. His frail master sends him out on errands, twisting him with magic, crafting a plan too cruel to name, while the monster’s heart grows fonder and colder and more cunning.
These monsters of Elendhaven will have their revenge on everyone who wronged the city, even if they have to burn the world to do it.
My Thoughts: This was both a lot gayer than I expected and a lot shorter than I expected, but I’m not complaining on either front. I really dug this novella. It’s creepy and dark in all the right ways. I’m definitely down to read more by Giesbrecht.
My Rating: 4/5
House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
Summary: In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.
Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last— the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge— and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.
Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who— or what— are they really dancing with?
When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family— before it claims her next.
My Thoughts: I could be critical of this book, but I think I’d rather enjoy it for what it is. This book is clearly intended to be a long-form fairy tale. Therefore, I feel okay with forgiving the instalove, tonal issues, and lack of complex characterization. I had fun reading this book and was excited to keep reading.
Moreover, it’s deliciously creepy. If you’re looking for some Horror Lite, I recommend this book. It also has some pretty good twists. Overall, I thought it was a cool take on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Check out my review for more details!
My Rating: 4/5
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
Summary: When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck— enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother— meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.
Instead, she got Em.
Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash— and a lash. And Em has secrets, too…
As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies— missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations— drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive— she must confront the ghosts in her own head.
But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?
My Thoughts: My reading experience with this book was interesting to say the least. Sometimes I wasn’t that invested and other times I was glued to the screen (I read it on my tablet, which I do suspect may have been part of the reason for my occasional apathy). Gyre’s relationship with Em is repetitive, switching back and forth between trust and distrust, liking and loathing. Given different revelations, I get why but it’s still annoying to read.
But I also found the story exciting and harrowing. I feared for Gyre’s life, wanting desperately for her to get out of the cave. In fact, I’ve found I kind of like stories about caving and spelunking (at least when they’re riddled with horror).
And, of course, I’m always a sucker for a F/F romance and lesbian protagonist. Don’t get me wrong— this story is not a romance. But Gyre and Em do have something between them. I happen to really appreciate that.
So yeah, this was a fun book. I didn’t always enjoy myself, but I’d still say I had an overall positive experience with this book. Great debut! Check out my review for more details!
My Rating: 4/5
The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab
Summary: The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.
If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.
There are no strangers in the town of Near.
These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.
But when an actual stranger, a boy who seems to fade like smoke, appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.
The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion.
As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.
My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book for the first half to two thirds. It has a Gaiman-esque quality to it. This book is, after all, more about the atmosphere than the story or the characters. But a Schwab novel cares deeply about the characters, so why are these ones so flat and dull?
But my main gripe— and the reason why I lowered my rating— is the ending. It seems to go on and on forever. It’s back and forth between the same locations, dragging out the ending so it can be the most dramatic. It’s annoying and forces Lexi to make stupid decisions.
Luckily, Schwab has only improved as a writer since this book. Though The Near Witch is not a new favorite, I’m glad to have read it.
My Rating: 3/5
The Ash-Born Boy by V.E. Schwab
Summary: Before he came to Near…
Before he met Lexi…
Before they faced the witch…
Who was the boy named Cole?
Follow us to Dale, a city on a hill, where in a matter of days fire will devour everything. Meet the Lord and Lady, and their son, the boy destined to inherit all… until everything turns to ash.
It’s time to learn the truth behind the stranger’s story.
My Thoughts: I wasn’t expecting to love this story as much as I do. This is the Schwab I know and love. The characters feel more alive here, richer than they do in The Near Witch. This story is dark and sad and hopeless. It’s about fear as its predecessor is, but it does it so much better. Also, Will is superior to Cole.
My Rating: 5/5
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Summary: Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.
My Thoughts: I read most of this book in one day. It’s so goddamn good. The characters, the plot twists, everything is just *chef’s kiss*. Check out my review for more details!
My Rating: 5/5
Apt Pupil by Stephen King
Summary: Todd Bowden is an apt pupil. Good grades, good family, a paper route. But he is about to meet a different kind of teacher: Mr. Dussander. Todd knows all about Dussander’s dark past. The torture. The death. The decades-old manhunt Dussander has escaped to this day. Yet Todd doesn’t want to turn him in. Todd wants to know more. Much more. He is about to learn the real meaning of power— and the seductive lure of evil.
My Thoughts: The story itself is 3 stars, but there was so much in this book that really brought it down. First of all, it’s incredibly sexist. It’s not just the characters who are supposed to be bad people who espouse misogyny— it permeates the entire book. Todd sexualizes his own mother when he’s 13. Every marriage is unhealthy, every wife a nagging nuisance.
And the slurs! It’s one thing when Todd and Dussander use them. Again, they’re bigoted, horrible people. But other characters will use slurs for seemingly no reason. The f-slur is used at least ten times on one page. In an off-hand quote, Todd’s baseball coach uses the n-word. What does this add to the story? Nothing whatsoever.
I also felt really uncomfortable reading graphic sexual fantasies and sex scenes involving a teenager. I get what the point was, but did King really have to describe it in that much detail?
I didn’t know this going in, but there’s a graphic scene in which Dussander kills a cat. Yes, this is a horror novel and so horror is to be expected. I just feel like it’s fair to warn people when animals are killed.
I know this book was written in the 80s and takes place in the 70s, so it may be a little unfair to judge it by today’s standards. And yet, I can’t help but do it anyway. Apt Pupil is a decent story and I like the way everything comes together in the end. I just can’t abide by all the unneeded bigotry.
My Rating: 2.5
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Summary: Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away― by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began― and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.
My Thoughts: This is the kind of book you either love or hate, and I loved it. Dark fairy tales with a twist are my jam and this one really speaks to me. I’ve heard it described as Gaiman-esque and I have to agree— there’s something inherent about the way magic and the fantasy world work in this story. Things simply just are, and I think that’s beautiful.
Speaking of beautiful, the writing is simply gorgeous. It’s just the right amount of lyrical and flowery. If you’re not a huge fan of purple prose, this book won’t bog you down (though in my case, the purpler the better).
I also love how flawed these characters are. They’re imperfect and sometimes they’re selfish and mean. But that’s what makes them real and human. Alice isn’t likable, but she sure is lovable.
If you’re a fan of writers like Gaiman, definitely give this story a chance. You’ll probably love it as much as I do.
My Rating: 5/5
What did you read in October? Have you read any of these books? Let’s discuss in the comments!