Scare Yourself Silly with These Spooky October Reads

October is a bizarre time of the year, especially in America. It’s a weird mix of history, the occult, slutty costumes, and candy corn. The weather is finally starting to cool off, which means winter isn’t far behind. As the world turns colder, humans draw closer to their hearths and homes. Wrapped up in the winter’s silence, our minds are free to dwell on the things that go bump in the night, the things that may be just outside our windows…

Now is the time to read dark things, frightening things that make you question the world, its inhabitants, and even yourself. Any of these books is a good place to start.

The Seeker

Aine Cahill arrives in Concord, Massachusetts in search of the truth about her ancestor. The more she digs for the truth, the faster her world unravels. There are old, evil things lurking in the forests, things that Aine slowly realizes have been with her since childhood. This one kept me up at night.

The Woman in Black

A young solicitor arrives in a remote village to settle a client’s affairs. There he is terrified by a ghostly figure in black. He’s determined to discharge his duties, but he has no idea of the horrors in store for him. This book is atmospheric in the extreme — the house itself is the best character — managed to terrify me without using a single jump scare.

Heart-Shaped Box

Judas Coyne loves the macabre, so when he’s given the chance to buy a “haunted” suit he does so gleefully. But it turns out the suit is truly haunted…and its ghost has a score to settle with Judas. This book was too scary for me, but if you enjoy being absolutely paralyzed with fright, this could be the book for you.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

Sometimes true things are the scariest of all. The big house a little way out of town is locked up for the night, the 12 inhabitants asleep in their beds. In the morning one of them, a four year-old, is dead. A London detective nearly destroys his life uncovering the truth — but we may never know the whole story. I’m just as obsessed with this book as I am with author Kate Summerscale’s other book, The Wicked Boy.

It’s Summer! Here Are Four Things To Read When It’s Too Hot To Think

I love classic novels as much as the next gal, but there comes a time in every person’s life when you need to set down the Serious Books and pick up what the literati might call “total nonsense.”

This is especially true during summer — school’s out, work might be a little slow, and people are enjoying vacations.

Plus, I’m from Texas; it is just too damn hot to do anything but lay naked on the living room floor underneath the ceiling fan with a wet rag on my forehead, praying for Christmas. Now is not the time for me to try to muscle my way through Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

If you can’t stand the thought of reading Tolstoy or Dickens while lolling around on your beach towel, may I suggest some lighter summer reads?

The Grand Sophy (Georgette Heyer)

The Grand Sophy Georgette HeyerGeorgette Heyer is the mother of the historical romance genre, and her children are plentiful. She wrote over 50 novels, most of which are set in the Regency and Georgian eras — they’re Jane Austen novels with the sass levels turned up to 11.

The Grand Sophy is Heyer’s most popular novel, and it’s hysterical. Ms. Sophy Stanton-Lacy is deposited on her cousins’ doorstep by her distracted father and immediately sees that her family is in distress. Cecilia is in love with a nincompoop poet, Charles is engaged to the most pretentious woman on earth, and Hubert is piling up gambling debts as only a young gentleman can.

Fortunately, Sophy is a masterful busybody and sets about wreaking havoc and scandalizing the ton — all in the name of sorting things as they should be.

This book makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. It’s so well-written and so much fun to read. Other great ones include The Masqueraders and Lady of Quality.

Childhood favorites

Charlotte's Web, E.B. WhiteRe-reading can be risky, but for me, there’re fewer greater pleasures in the world than returning to my favorite childhood reads. As Kathleen Kelly says in You’ve Got Mail:

When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.

Now is a wonderful time to reconnect with the stories that you enjoyed as a kid, when summer days felt endless and you didn’t have to worry about anything except which book to read next.

If you weren’t much of a reader as a kid, I recommend E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books.

Xanth “Trilogy” (Piers Anthony)

A Spell for Chameleon, Piers AnthonyI put “trilogy” in quotes because there’s actually more than 30 in the series — it was really hard to stop Anthony once he got on a roll.

Everyone in the land of Xanth has a magical ability, anything from controlling the weather to making a green spot appear on a wall. Some magical powers are useless, but everyone has one…except Bink.

A Spell for Chameleon, the first book in the series, follows Bink as he is exiled to Mundania (a land without magic). There he is captured by an evil magician who once tried to conquer Xanth, and is ready to try again — and he needs Bink’s help.

These books are smart, funny, and so full of so many puns that I almost can’t stand it. Start with A Spell for Chameleon and work your way through. They’re all great.

Romance novels

The Husband List, Janet Evanovich and Dorien KellyThere’s something delicious about reading a naughty novel in public. You know what you’re reading, the gal next to you at the pool or on the bus knows what you’re reading, and you both know the other person knows.

Romance novels are candy for your brain — whether they’re the gentlest of Christian romance or the hardest of hard-core Harlequins. Fluffy romances are always fun (I enjoyed Janet Evanovich’s The Husband List), but if you’re looking for something steamy with a little meat on its bones, check out Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series.

What’s on your reading list this summer? Let me know in the comments!

6 Ominous(Ish) Gothic Novels To Read For Halloween

Gothic novels are chock-full of haunted castles, mustache-twirling villains, damsels in distress, dashing heroes, and supernatural elements of all shapes and sizes. If you’ve read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, you’ve read what most contemporary readers call “Gothic.”

But Stoker was actually late to the genre party; Dracula was published in 1897, while the first true Gothic novel was published almost 135 years prior — and it’s this book that’s first on my list of Gothic novels you should read this October.

The Castle Of Otranto, Horace Walpole (1764)

The Castle of Otranto, by Horace WalpoleThe story begins with a wedding during which the groom is crushed to death by a massive helmet — and it just gets weirder from there. The Castle of Otranto is like a thriller on speed and steroids, packed with melodrama and creaking doors, pounding waves, hysterical weeping, and dastardly attacks on virginal women. It’s a serious novel, but seems ridiculous by modern standards. Pick up a copy if you want to see what Walpole and other Gothic novelists wanted the genre to be.

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen (1817)

Northanger Abbey, by Jane AustenNorthanger Abbey was published just a few months after Jane Austen’s death, and is her most scathing social commentary. It’s also incredibly funny. The main character, Catherine Morland, is a silly thing who has read more trashy romance novels than she has brain cells. She can hardly believe her good luck when she is invited to stay with the Tilney family at Northanger Abbey; Catherine believes that, like the heroines in her favorite novels, she will uncover a dangerous secret there or possibly see a real ghost! After stumbling into several embarrassing scrapes, Catherine must learn the hard lesson that not everything is the way it’s portrayed in books.

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)

Frankenstein by Mary ShelleyA lot of people read Frankenstein in high school English; if you missed that chance, don’t let it slide by again this October. Shelley’s novel about a scientist playing God and creating a monster is creepy and beautiful. Like Austen’s novel, Frankenstein is a social commentary, albeit a more serious one. What are the unforeseen consequences of a mad scientist’s obsession? How far can science go, and how far should it?

The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins (1859)

The Woman in White, Wilkie CollinsCollins’ famous novel is somewhere between The Castle of Otranto and Frankenstein on the Gothic scale — it’s got some crazy supernatural elements, but also includes some more modern elements like switching between several first-person narratives. It’s long — almost 600 pages — and has a little bit of a “This can’t possibly get any crazier, right?” kind of feel, but it’s a great read. It also contains one of my favorite quotes ever:

No sensible man ever engages, unprepared, in a fencing match of words with a woman.

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960)

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper LeeAt this point you might be thinking, “What the what? To Kill a Mockingbird is a quasi-autobiographical drama!” But think about it for a second. We’ve got a creepy old house down the street, there’s a scary bad guy living in said house, an intrepid heroine, attacks under cover of dark, and a general sense of foreboding. Sounds Gothic to me, and in fact it’s part of the Southern Gothic genre — it’s got all the classic Gothic elements, plus it’s set in the Deep South. Which is, hello, the best place to set a spooky novel!

The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle (1968)

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. BeagleChances are if you’ve heard of this one, you’ve actually heard of the 1982 film The Last Unicorn. It’s a weird-ass little movie, and doesn’t do the book justice (shocking, right?). It’s got some great Gothic elements — a crumbling castle, supernatural everything, plus a little romance — without being overwhelming.

Bonus: The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe (1845)

It’s not a novel, but anything by Poe typifies Gothic literature. The Raven is arguably his most famous piece of poetry. It’s bizarre, dark, and deliciously spine-tingling, especially when performed by an actor who really knows how to perform the shit out of poetry:

Get Gothic, y’all

Gothic novels are a great way to get into the Halloween season spirit for those looking for a break from straight-up horror (although if that’s your thing, I recommend Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box and R.B. Chesterton’s The Seeker). And if you find yourself curled up with Frankenstein or The Woman in White this Halloween, don’t be scared if you hear a tapping, as of some one gently rapping, rapping at your chamber door…

Am I the Only One Who Hates Third Person Present Tense?

I’ve just finished reading Plan Your Attack, the second book in a series by Sarah Rodriguez Pratt (I reviewed Choose Your Weapon last year). I don’t typically review entire series, but I’m making an exception because I just have to know: does third person present tense drive anyone else as crazy as it drives me?

For those who get this kind of thing mixed up (like me), here’s a sample of what I’m talking about (from Pratt’s novel):

Helen quickly locates her new locker. Thankfully, it’s clean, unlike the gum-encrusted locker she had her freshman year. She pulls a notebook out of her backpack and deposits the rest of her belongings into the lockers, sliding her old padlock over the latch and shutting it with a familiar click.

While I enjoy Pratt’s storytelling, I can’t like the way she’s chosen to storytell. Third person present tense has a “bad fanfiction” kind of feel to me, and I think that does a disservice to Pratt’s story and her characters.

I’d love to get other people’s thoughts on this. What do you think of third person present tense? Is there a writing style that you dislike? Let’s talk this out!

Sitting on My Nightstand

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump recently. There’s lots of reasons why, but it all falls under the “needing to get out of my head” category. I want to go to the movies and binge-watch Netflix, play video games with Best Friend, and maybe invite a few friends over; for me this is positively extroverted behavior.

And while I’m out being “social” there are several books sitting on my nightstand waiting to be read.

I don’t think I’ll pick any of them up in the next week or so, but it’s nice to know they’re waiting patiently for my return, calling quietly to me without judging me for not spending time with them. Books are good friends that way.

Books on my nightstand