Happy Halloween! (Cue singing: It’s the most wonderful time of the yeeaarrrr!) I have had such a busy October that there’s no way I’ll be able to do a semi-thoughtful All Hallows Read post like last year’s. Sorry! Check there for a list of scary children’s books I highly recommend for this most joyous of occasions: the giving of books intended to horrify your loved ones. But I read some great new scary books this year, which I’d like to mention. Just in case anyone needs something frightening for tomorrow and doesn’t know what’s come out recently. (Click links and book covers to read my full reviews of these books.)
I was rather taken with the spooky, swampy atmosphere in Natale C. Parker’s debut YA novel, Beware The Wild. It just came out this month. The premise is suspenseful, and the small Louisiana town feels wonderfully real despite all the sinister swamp action going on just beyond the fence.
Conversion by Katherine Howe is more thought-provoking and stressful than it is scary, but it centers around the events of the Salem Witch Hysteria, and so is very seasonally appropriate. Katherine Howe expertly balances a modern story of inexplicable hysteria shaking up a girls’ Catholic school in Massachusetts with the historical narrative of Anne Putnam, one of the girls who was instrumental in accusing her neighbors of dealing with the devil in 17th century Salem. Psychologically astute but also very compassionate, this is a book about teenagers which adults would enjoy just as much as teenagers. (Plus – she’s so good at making historical accuracy readable and compelling! A difficult feat.)
On the note of Katherine Howe’s encyclopedic knowledge about the history of American witchcraft, may I direct your attention to the brand-new Penguin Book of Witches. Edited by Howe herself, this little gem has first-hand sources relating to the belief in witchcraft and persecution of suspected witches, starting with the superstitious King James and then on even past those famous trials in Salem. It’s not the sort of book you might want to read all in one go, but the individual documents provide a fascinating peep into the minds of people in a time when the influence of black magic was a constant concern.
The second book in Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co series came out this fall, and I liked it just as much as the first one! Truly terrifying ghostly action, punctuated with saber fights and lively dialogue between the teenaged exorcists who are the series’ heroes.
Another book starring a sarcastic fellow and a whole host of nasty supernatural creatures was William Ritter’s debut novel, Jackaby. This one is recommended to both teenagers and adults: the plot is fun and fast, but the monsters are pretty grisly. Like Sherlock Holmes in a monster movie, with an awkward partnership and false trails promised along the way. I particularly liked the inclusion of banshees. (And, of course, the witty banter.)
Jennifer McMahon’s thriller The Winter People came out –appropriately– in the late winter, but it’s got a very spooky atmosphere and some violent ghosts. A modern girl reads the diary of the woman who used to live on her property, and finds herself enmeshed in over a century of dead children, threatening forest, and seriously bad vibes all around. The secluded Vermont setting made me very nervous about driving through heavily wooded areas for a few days after I finished.
Josh Malerman’s debut novel Bird Box scared the crap out of me. Don’t ask me what was so scary; it’s better you don’t know. Just buy it and read it. But read it on a night where you don’t need much sleep, because you won’t be putting it down until you’ve finished. I’m still on edge, ten months later.
W.W. Norton released a new annotated collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories just in time of Halloween! It’s a big, impressive tome full of nightmarish images from the prince of horror himself. And, if Lovecraft’s haunting stories aren’t enough to get your blood running cold, there are handy notes and further reading in the margins: tour guides to a truly sleepless night. I grabbed a copy of this book the moment we got it in at the shop, and sent it to one of my closest friends, with whom I used to trade great old scary books every All Hallows Read when we were in University. It gets his stamp (or shriek) of approval.
I love the Everyman’s Library Pocket series of poetry collections, and this year they blessed us with an anthology devoted to poems about the dead and undead. It’s like they read my mind! This macabre sub-genre of poetry isn’t always easy to track down on your own, and now it’s been kindly compiled for freaks like me. Thanks ever so much. Best read in a graveyard by moonlight.
The Quick, by Lauren Owen, came out this Spring. Sort of a mix of Dracula and Oscar Wilde, with some great slaying thrown in for good measure. I loved the fraught atmosphere of a Victorian London plagued by an otherworldly menace, but the secret societies and gangs of urchins made for some scary reading, too. And the conversations between dandies were great fun, even while sinister forces lurked in the shadows.
A few new scary books I still need to read:
Anne Rice’s new Lestat book only JUST came out but I am dyyyying to read it! Lestat, Louis, Armand, and their whole gang felt like close friends of mine in middle school and high school. (The Vampire Lestat, Interview With The Vampire, and Queen of the Damned were my first favorites.) Now there’s a new book featuring The Brat Prince, at last! My fourteen year old self is just salivating to get sucked back into all that vampire drama again.
A customer bought Emily Carroll’s beautiful and blood-curdling graphic novel, Through The Woods, before I had a chance to read it thoroughly. But what I flipped through… just wow. Proper horror and folktale combined, told in few, well chosen, words. And the images will haunt me forever.
I loved the dangerous faeries and sinister style in Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement, and her newest YA book looks even more disturbing! Kirkus’s review had this to say: “The atmosphere in Yovanoff’s latest is eerily reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, if only Harper Lee’s Maycomb residents had been given magical families as a focus for theirbigotry.” I’m so intrigued!
I’ve heard mixed reviews of Lauren Oliver’s new book Rooms, which is aimed at adults (unlike her very popular YA books). But haunted houses are totally my jam, so I’ll almost certainly read it eventually. Plus, look at that cover. Dang.
The Book Smugglers’ review of The Girl From The Well, by Rin Chupeco, has me completely hooked. Inspired by an old Japanese ghost story and featuring a violent, vengeful spirit, this sounds like exactly my sort of YA horror novel. I hope to read this one before the year is out.
There are almost certainly new scary books I’ve neglected to mention, but this list has grown mighty long. Obviously, 2014 has been a spectacular year for scary books. A reason to rejoice for those of us who spend way too much time reading scary stories on crumbling graveyard walls. As it’s All Hallow’s Read, I hope you all give a scary book to someone, and read one for yourself. Frighten your loved ones. Unnerve your friends. And hey authors: keep writing ghost stories and haunting tales, please! I love the way you make my blood run cold.