NHPR Reads: October 2023
Ahhh, October. Our favorite month! The eerie, liminal time of year in which we celebrate all things deep, dark and spooky; when the nights get longer and the ghouls come out to play. Whether you have nerves of steel or are more of a scaredy-cat, we hope you can find a novel to sink your teeth into from this staff-curated list. And please send us your review if you decide to add any of these novels to your October library list at firstname.lastname@example.org. - Zoë and Sara
Pet Sematary by Stephen King - Beth Szelog
I read this when I was in my 20’s and it scared the bejeezus out of me. A true Stephen King classic. Spooky path to an ancient burial ground? Animals coming back to life? People coming back to life? Creepy ghost? Do I need to say more other than, “sometimes dead is better?”
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia - Sara Plourde
A young woman travels to her cousin’s estate to investigate when the cousin claims her husband is trying to murder her. Spookiness ensues. A modern update of the gothic genre, akin to du Maurier’s Rebecca (another favorite of mine) and Wuthering Heights, Mexican Gothic also takes on the true horrors of racism and colonization with a deft hand. (Ditto Olivia)
The Shining by Stephen King - Zoë Kay
The Shining is in the running for my favorite book of all time. King masterfully builds a classic haunted house story teeming with detail in every nook and cranny. The story is full of characters that you grow to care deeply about, even Jack and the chilling feelings of confinement, being stalked by your own family, and the impeccable description of alcohol-induced madness come together in brilliant and terrifying horror.
Magic by William Goldman - Susan Doran
Although penned by the author of the delightful Princess Bride, this novel couldn’t be more different. When unfunny booze-sodden milquetoast comedian Corky acquires ventriloquist dummy “Fats” (his raunchy, foul-mouthed, charismatic polar opposite), Corky’s career and life take a turn…but is it for the better or worse? At times surreal and stream-of-consciousness, somewhat messy stylistically, Magic is worth staying with, particularly the final half.
The October Country by Ray Bradbury – Sarah Alger
It’s a series of macabre and creepy short stories.
The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean - Michelle Gaudet
A contemporary fantasy, The Book Eaters is about a secret patriarchal society of creatures - aliens - monsters - I’m still not entirely sure, but they literally eat books to satisfy hunger in their bellies and minds. An exciting piece of fiction is considered a dessert while punishment might mean having to eat pages from a dictionary. And when the feast is done, they retain all the knowledge from the book. As with most stories about those who are different, this book will have you asking who are the true monsters?
Side note: How cool would it be to be able to eat a book and retain all the knowledge forever? Book club question – discuss.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley - Zoë Kay
Reading Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a rite of passage for most high school or college students and although I have read the novel a small handful of times, it took until adulthood to garner true appreciation. While obviously Victor and the Monster are the main characters of this story, it was easy for me to lose sight of that with this reread. I began only thinking of Mary Shelley’s tragic young adulthood marked with loss of two infants, familial suicide, and being made a widow at 24. I hope you reread this soon, if only to celebrate Mary Shelley and her incredible contribution to the genres of science fiction and horror.
The Other by Thomas Tryon - Sara Plourde
Set in a small Connecticut town, The Other is a disturbing tale of personality transference between two thirteen year old twins with a creepy, seemingly psychic connection, one of whom appears to be deeply evil. I don’t want to give any more away. A largely unheralded masterpiece of horror.
Dead Eleven by Jimmy Juliano - Michelle Gaudet
I saved this one for October because it’s got the requisite ghosts and ghouls, but it honestly could have been a summer read. It’s fairly easy to work out what’s going on in this story. There are some gimmicky elements in terms of point of view flipping, mixing formats and 90s flashbacks all of which make it feel lighter than a typical spooky story. Also, it's funny – even if it’s a bit on the wicked side. At least that’s how I viewed it when in the first few pages a woman dies and her neighbor ties her to her mailbox, steals her nightgown and then calls the police, and they basically say, “meh.”
I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid - Zoë Kay
If you are interested in creepy farmhouses, unreliable narrators, desolate high schools, and an ever-present, unnerving feeling of dread - this book is for you. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a quick read, quicker if you’re like me and end up skipping chunks to discover the ending sooner!
The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon - Sara Plourde
A tale of children and monsters and the things that haunt us told in two timelines - 1978 and 2019 - and inspired by Frankenstein. Chris Bohjalian calls McMahon the “literary descendant of Shirley Jackson,” and I couldn’t agree more. If you like this one, try The Winter People next.
Ghostland by Colin Dickey - Paul Cuno-Booth
In this nonfiction book, author Colin Dickey takes us to haunted places across the country, from Salem, Mass., to Los Angeles. More than just an account of local ghost stories, this book is also an exploration of why we deem certain places ‘haunted,’ what history we’re choosing to remember through those ghosts – and whose stories we’re conveniently trying to forget.
Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle - Michelle Gaudet
Full disclosure, I haven’t read this book yet. I am planning to start it this weekend on a long car ride. The story takes place at the self-proclaimed “most effective” gay conversion camp in the country but, according to the book jacket, the secret behind that success is anything but holy. In my opinion, that reads as true horror right there. The reviews of this book are all over the place so I’m not really sure what to expect with this one. We will see.