Halloween Reading List 2017

Someone (and I’m not sure if she wants to remain anonymous, so I’ll edit her name in if she’d like me to) suggested I do a general “book recs for Halloween” post. I think that’s a great idea. Yes, I know it’s NOT EVEN OCTOBER YET, but some of my suggestions might take time to track down, so I’m posting now in case anyone is inspired to seek out a used copy.

The List

  1. The Society (Forbidden Doors #1)
  2. The Crucible (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1)
  3. Halloween Night
  4. Halloween Night II
  5. Blood Covered (Corpse Party #1)
  6. My Best Friend’s Exorcism
  7. Shallow Grave
  8. Rise of the Zombie Scarecrows

The Books

The Society (Forbidden Doors #1) calls for a digression: you know how sometimes you buy one or two items that have a “theme” of some kind, like a cow-shaped creamer and then some cow-patterned oven mitts, and then your friends and family make up their mindsocietys somehow that “Hey, she collects cows!” and suddenly you’re INUNDATED with cows. Everyone who sees a cow-ish knickknack immediately thinks of you, and as far as everyone else is concerned their gift-giving dilemmas are solved forever, and meanwhile you’re not even sure why you’re drowning in cows.

A while ago I reviewed a Christian-themed “horror” novel, and now people keep reccing other Christian horror series to me. I have gone from not even knowing these existed to personally owning books belonging to three separate series of them. Yikes.

Not gonna lie: this book, and the series to which it belongs, rank high on my “weirdest things ever read” list. I wasn’t raised by Evangelical Christians, so I’m not in the target market. Still, if you’re willing to suspend disbelief and go along with the premise of the book, it’s fun and kind of creepy. The premise—that the people who own “New Age” bookstores belong to sinister societies and are heavily invested in forcing people to remain part of the group once they attend a meeting—is kind of a big ask, but once you get past that it’s fun, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into a different set of fears than are usually found in children’s/YA horror.

chilling adventures of sabrinaFollowing more logically than you might expect, The Crucible (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1) gives us witches, and they’re the ACTUAL EVIL WITCHES of 1960s horror paperbacks: nothing harmless and well-meaning here. There’s rampant selfishness from parental figures, and blood sacrifice of innocent people, and it’s all horrifying and compelling. I’ve pre-ordered volume two (I may possibly have pre-ordered it twice, by accident).

Arguably everything I review on this blog belongs on a halloween nightHalloween rec list, of course, but I’ve made a deliberate effort to mostly skip listing the sort of vintage YA horror I recap all the time. One of my exceptions is Halloween Night, though (along with the sequel, halloween night 2Halloween Night II), because they’re both perfect examples of R. L. Stine and perfect “setting the mood” Halloween books. Provided, you know, that the mood you want to be in is “murderous rage directed at my cousin.”

Blood Covered (Corpse Party #1): The first volume of this series is the only one I’ve read, but I liked it well enough to immediately order the next three volumes. corpse party 1

It’s a grisly horror story set in a school (which is itself located on the site of another elementary school, torn down after a teacher’s death), and while I love all horror story school settings, this book has even more fun with it than usual. Right from the first lines I was hooked, because the haunted school is an elementary school, so it starts with “it was a dark and stormy…late afternoon,” and the dire warning that the ghost appears if you stay at the school after seven p.m. Ha. Seriously, isn’t that pitch-perfect for a haunted elementary school?

Mild warning: whoever drew this is under the impression that schoolgirls have larger breasts than is biologically or gravitationally likely. I wasn’t offended, but I did roll my eyes often enough that I’m lucky they didn’t get stuck that way. If that sort of thing gets to you, you may want to give it a miss.

my best friend's exorcismI love My Best Friend’s Exorcism so much that I have literally bought MORE THAN ONE COPY for MORE THAN ONE FRIEND. That’s right: I bought it for people, then fell in love with the paperback cover and bought it for THE SAME PEOPLE all over again. I’m not saying they have restraining orders out, I’m just saying I’d understand it if they did.

This book is epic and broad and sweeping. All the best and worst of the 80s is contained, or at least hinted at and summoned up to haunt you, in this book. It has my favourite exorcism scene of all time.

It also has a pet death, which I know makes it a hard NO for some people. That was the only scene I wish could be rewritten, because I am not up for sudden SAD when I want to feel nostalgic-yet-terrified. But other than that, it’s one of the most fun books I’ve read in the past year.

The Orca Currents books are designed for struggling or reluctant readers who have YA orca shallow gravelives and interests but don’t have the reading skills to go along with that. So they’re complex stories told simply, with surprisingly rich characters. Think “Degrassi” or “Bluford” and you’ll kind of get the moral and emotional tone of many of these books.

Before you dismiss these because you aren’t a struggling reader (or someone who works with struggling readers): I’m the readeriest reader that ever read, and I literally devour orca zombie scarecrowsOrca Currents by the handful. They’re stunning examples of controlled plot and “show don’t tell,” all deployed in fewer pages than seems possible for the sheer amount of character they offer. Curious yet? Shallow Grave is very much a traditional ghost story, set in the immediate present. It’s so Canadian you can hear the waves against the dock, I swear. On a somewhat lighter note, Rise of the Zombie Scarecrows features a kid trying to make a horror film for a class project, and stumbling across a murder plot along the way.

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Bryce Gibson: The Reading Buddy

The Reading Buddy is a new release, so as usual when I discuss new books, I’ll be doing a general review instead of a spoiler-laden recap. I like to try to give new books a little breathing room so they can find their audience.

reading buddy

Like the books by Paul Philips that I’ve been reading, this feels very much like a vintage Point Horror or Fear Street novel, with one exception (and this applies to Philips’ books too): instead of vague “craziness,” used to dismiss homicide or whatever, there’s a specific mental health issue (in this case, social anxiety; in The Housewarming Party, depression), presented intelligently and with empathy.

As much as I can roll with the 80s/90s style of dealing with the issue (unrealistically, for the most part), I have to say, it adds some realism to have characters who’re able to describe mental health issues 1) in a way that makes sense and 2) that arise out of events, and make future events make sense. And horror just works better when the world is believable.

The Reading Buddy has a lot going on, most of which I can’t discuss without spoiling things. There’s a murder in the background, which far from being over and done with still informs the main character’s reactions (seventeen-year-old Blake Thomas, who lost both his best friend and his stepfather in one horrific night). There’s the menacing reading buddy from the title, an online relationship Blake acquires at the urging of his therapist as a sort of first step as he eases his way back into social relationships. There’s Blake’s father, and weirdness surrounding his relationship with Blake’s (long deceased, and before that, divorced) mother. And there’s the girl next door, whose relationship with Blake is more complex than he realizes…

I virtually inhaled this book. I started it before bed last night, and got up and finished it this morning. It’s very readable, obviously. Things that I initially worried might be loose threads got picked up as the story progressed, which was satisfying.

This is definitely one for fans of classic YA horror, and I’ll be reading the author’s earlier book, as well as whatever he writes next.

Paul Phillips: The Housewarming Party

I’ve been away from my laptop for a week, and of course while I was vacationing I got a lot of reading done, none of which I could review. (Well, I suppose I could write reviews on my phone, but I have no intention of ever doing that.)

First up: The Housewarming Party. This was excellent.

housewarming partyI reviewed The Guy Next Door recently and mentioned how much the author’s pacing had improved. The Housewarming Party came just before that one, I think (I am so, so bad about reading things in order. Ugh.), and actually, the superb pacing is already present here. Additionally, this is well-edited and tightly plotted, so if you know people who’re down on self-published books because they’ve been exposed to too many bad ones, throw this at them.

This is a “sort of like Fear Street or Point Horror” retro-style YA horror story, so if you’re as fond of those as I am, it’s worth picking up.

Anything beyond this point may contain spoilers, just so you know.

The book opens with a teenage girl, alone in the house and daydreaming about moving out on her own once she turns eighteen.

Someone had told her that rent money was dead money, because you were simply paying off somebody else’s house. (loc 42)

That quote isn’t crucial to the plot; it’s just so true I felt compelled to share it.

Anyway. The girl gets a creepy prank call and ends up stabbed by an intruder, so then when we head into chapter one and our heroine, Jill Fowler, is moving into her own place for the first time the reader is already on edge. Excellent.

Jill is renting a house with her friends Zoe and Bunny, and they can only afford the place because 1) the property manager hasn’t been able to get anyone else interested and 2) Bunny’s father, who is increasingly suspicious the more you see of him, is subsidizing his spoiled daughter.

“I hope there are some cute removalists,” Bunny chirped.  (loc 204)

“Removalist” is such a useful word I don’t understand why it isn’t used outside Australia. (I mean, I use it all the time, but that’s because I picked it up in Australia and we just don’t have a word that works as well. “Movers” is weird and vague and “moving guys” is slangy and arguably sexist.)

Speaking of Australia (she segues neatly), this is set in Howlett, the fictional town that manages to feel like both California and Australia. I’m very fond of the place.

Soon Jill is getting creepy phone calls, first on the abandoned landline in the house (just the existence of a landline you didn’t know about somewhere in your house would be a bit spooky, don’t you think?). Later the calls start reaching her on her cell phone, and the demands that they cancel their housewarming party make the police dismiss it as a probable prank by someone they’ve invited…

I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that it hits the sweet spot of being retroactively-convincing once you know all the facts without being telegraphed too obviously.

 

 

 

reading: The Guy Next Door

Title: The Guy Next Door

Author: Paul Phillips

guy next door

You guys: there is nothing cooler than following a self-published author’s work and witnessing them getting steadily better.

And honestly, I enjoyed Paul Phillips’ writing anyway, but this is his latest book and he is SO on top of his game now.

He always had the tropes of this sort of Fear Street/Point Horror flavoured story down perfectly, but now his pacing is improved and the tension ratchets up quickly and inexorably.

The plot of this is batshit INSANE, but I mean that in a good way (and to make things creepier, EVEN THE CREEPIEST PARTS are not all that far removed from actual things that have happened. Gah).

This is a fun, spooky read. If you have Kindle Unlimited you can read it for free, but even if you don’t it’s only $1.29 CAD (presumably less in the U.S.), and it’s more than worth it.

R. L. Stine: Give Me a K-I-L-L

Lessons from Fear Street: If there’s one thing more deadly than cheerleading, it’s working at a shopping mall.

Title: Give Me a K-I-L-L (Fear Street Relaunch #6)

Author: R. L. Stine

give me a k-i-l-l

I have been waiting for this book for AGES. The cover is gorgeous, the title is perfect, and seeing Fear Street and cheerleading together again fills me with a strange glee.

So then it arrived a couple of weeks ago and I was too busy to read it. I just kept it on the dining room table and caressed it in a creepy manner every time I passed it. Longing looks were exchanged. Okay, maybe not exchanged: I am reasonably sure the book was not returning my longing looks.

FINALLY yesterday and today I got time to sit down and inhale it, and I am in love.

I own all six of the relaunch books, because of course I do, but this was my hands-down favourite.

It felt exactly like a classic Fear Street novel, which meant it was a teensy bit predictable. I was 99% sure the best friend was dead, for instance, and I was right. (I briefly wondered if maybe the best friend AND the main character were dead, but alas, no.) I also pegged the murderer, and I think anyone who’s read a lot of these will too.

But none of that matters, because this was a completely frothy, creepy, perfectly atmospheric book, and I’m still coming down from the high of returning to Fear Street and marvelling over the casualty rate among Shadyside High cheerleaders.

The twist/explanation at the end also summoned up the joys of the Silent Night books. No, there was no Christmas connection, just some further Dalby Department Store shenanigans. AWESOME.

silent night
The people who work at Dalby’s should seriously unionize.

 

reading: Pool Pranks

pool-pranks

Title: Pool Pranks

Author: Paul Phillips

Back cover description: Cahlee Daniels and her friends break into the local swimming pool to party. But the evening ends in tragedy when one of the group falls off the diving board and dies. Since they’re underage and have been drinking, and fearing for their futures, they remove all evidence of alcohol from the scene and lie to the police about what really happened.
One year later, they are all trying to move on. However, somebody out there isn’t willing to let them do that. Somebody out there seems to know what really happened that night, and wants to make sure they never, ever forget. One by one, Cahlee’s friends are targeted and victimized, the crimes usually taking place in or near a pool – with Cahlee as the final prize.

I filed this under both “vintage YA” and “Current YA,” because while it’s a recently-published book, this definitely belongs on the same shelf as vintage Stine or Point Horror. It requires the same suspension of disbelief: these are horror-movie teens, not quite like their real world counterparts. You just have to go with that if you’re going to enjoy this book on its own terms.

It’s a self published work, and has a few of the minor weaknesses I associate with self publication (and I see the same weaknesses in my own self-pubbed work, believe me, so I’m not trying to be super critical). There’s one point when Sabrina is following Cahlee home and ducks into some bushes, and we get this line: “After a few minutes, Cahlee poked her head out form behind the bushes.” (loc 845) A good editor would have caught that, although even large publishing houses are putting stuff on the shelves with that kind of error present, so indie authors aren’t the only ones having trouble finding good editors.

I was also a little confused as to which continent the town of Howlett is meant to be on. Cahlee is casually planning to go to Harvard without any mention of relocating to another country, which suggests we’re in the USA, but the language slips into Britspeak (or possibly Aussie speak, since it sounded like my husband). “The boot was filled with alcohol” (loc 86) and “Soon it would be collected by the council and taken to the tip” (loc 426) definitely aren’t Americanisms. There are a few of those, and a few more instances where the author over-explains slang (“cutting his grass”) that’s obvious from context.

But those are extremely minor quibbles, and didn’t detract from an enjoyable read. The plot and characters were a lot of fun (the characters were at least on par with, and sometimes better developed than, most of the population of the Point Horror series).

reading: American Girls

american-girls

Oh, God, this book. I loved every minute of it, yet spent most of the time I was reading it utterly enraged by the adult characters.

Being 1) ancient and 2) on the internet, I can’t help but notice there are a lot of underparented young people around. I don’t mean that as some sort of criticism of feral youth; I just mean I keep meeting people online who’re in their teens and twenties, and they’re practically having to figure out the world from scratch, because the adults in their lives are too busy FUBARing their own lives to be of any help.

Anna, the main character in American Girls, has two biological parents, plus a stepmother (her mother’s girlfriend) and by the end a second stepmother (her father’s very young new wife), and I hated them all. Hated. Wished they were real so I could call CPS on them.

And the worst part is, I don’t think the book is particularly unrealistic.

None of Anna’s parents are abusive (other than emotionally, because blaming your daughter for your having cancer is, yes, actually abuse), and they feed her, but…they’ve checked out of her life in a big way, more concerned about their own lives, and getting validation for their dumb choices, than they are with her. They’re self-absorbed assholes, and the mother has some kind of personality disorder (Anna reflects, more than once, on how her mother can say something and then later pretend that she didn’t say it at all, leaving you questioning your own sanity).

Towards the end Anna’s sister advises her not to expect more from people than they’re able to give you. She’s not wrong, but it’s a damned bleak kind of wisdom to have to hand out to a high school student.