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I talked about Halloween reads a few weeks ago for the younger kids and middle grade/YA readers (click here for the link), so today I’m going to focus my attention on the best older teen and adult reads for the spooky season. There are a tonne of great books out there, so here are some of my picks for wonderfully spooky reads – both mystery and literary fiction – for this time of year.
The Blondes by Emily Schultz (Doubleday Canada)
Hazel is a Canadian grad student, now living in New York when she finds out she is pregnant via her thesis advisor. In the midst of her own chaos, blonde women around the world are contracting a SARS-like virus that causes them to turn into psychotic killers. Soon, Hazel is struggling to return to Canada to find her baby’s father, only to find that the virus has become an epidemic, and that her journey will be more eventful than she can imagine. The story divides its time between New York and a chalet outside of Collingwood. I happened to be staying in a chalet, outside of Collingwood while reading the book – and did I mention that I myself am a ‘blonde’? It was both funny and unsettling at turns, but an absolutely compelling read. With both satirical wit and a thriller edge to it, The Blondes is a story of how we can be cruel towards each other – something that is more frightening in its reality than anything fiction might provide.
The Vampire Chronicles: Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice (Random House)
Before there was Twilight, or The Vampire Diaries, there was Anne Rice. The undisputed Queen of the Night, Rice was the first introduction many of us had to the world of the undead – filled with chills and horror and an undeniable draw towards a broody vampire named Louis and his maker Lestat, along with a host of other unforgettable characters. The movie may or may not be to your taste (personally, I didn’t mind it and found the child Kirsten Dunst to be the perfect Claudia), but you can never wipe the images of the Théâtre des Vampires from your mind. A true classic, and if you haven’t read it … why not?
The Dresden Files (Book One: Storm Front) by Jim Butcher (Penguin)
Part paranormal, part noir detective novel, I had wanted to read the Dresden books for years. However, it wasn’t until I moved further out of the city and had a much longer commute that I discovered the wonder that was Penguin Audio (thank you, iTunes and Audible!) and the incomparable James Marsters (yes, that James Marsters – Spike from Buffy, John Hart from Torchwood and Milton Fine from Smallville) who has read the role for eleven of the twelve audiobooks released so far. How much do I love them? A whole bunch, let me tell you. Harry is a magician and a private detective – he’s very good at the first, and moderately successful as the second. In Dresden’s world, the human and paranormal races live amongst each other, but the humans are unaware of the presence of fairies, vampires and the ilk, leaving Harry busy to cover up and solve all the problems that result. Wry, funny, adventurous and even a bit heartbreaking at times, this series is a fabulous mix of thriller, paranormal and classic hard-boiled detective tales.
The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid (Minotaur Books/HarperCollins Canada)
You don’t pick up a Val McDermid book for one of those “cozy” mystery reads that your auntie might have enjoyed. You pick up McDermid’s books because they are edge-of-your-seat, gritty, true-crime psychological thriller mysteries that leave you slightly breathless at the end. McDermid has three major series that she writes – the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan, the Kate Brannigan and the Lindsay Gordon series – and each has their own stylings. I only suggest this one as it’s the first in the Tony Hill series, and a great introduction to McDermid’s writing style. What all her series have in common are ruthlessly drawn characters you immediately connect to, and stories that grab you by the throat and drag you along with them to the bitter end. Life isn’t necessarily pleasant in McDermid’s books, but you won’t want to miss a word.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Delecorte Press/Random House)
The book that begat the series (and introduced us to eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison), SBP is a tale of society, past grudges, murder and science. Set in 1950’s rural England, Flavia, her sisters and her father live in a crumbling English manor home. Flavia’s irritation with her flighty sisters has her considering poisoning them (but only if she can get away with it), until a man quite literally drops dead on the deLuce’s doorstep. Flavia is precocious, for sure, but she’s also delightful, and you will love to get to know her as she attempts to save her own father from an accusation of murder. This is another twist on the classic “cozy” mystery and introduces a wonderful new detective to the mix.
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry (Simon & Schuster)
While this would appear to be ‘just another zombie novel’, it’s actually anything but. The setting is post-apocalyptic America, and Benny Imura must find a job by the time he’s fifteen or watch his rations be in half. Lacking any kind of motivation, he decides to become a zombie hunter like his older brother Tom. What Benny doesn’t realize is that he’s actually really good at it – and that there’s more to the zombies than he has originally thought. What sets this book apart from other zombie novels is the incredible characterization Maberry has created, and the detailed storyline that he’s created. Dust & Decay and Flesh & Bone round out the trilogy you won’t want to put down.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (HarperCollins)
Okay, perhaps you won’t find this creepy … but this freaked me out so much the first time I read it that I had to keep all the lights on at home for days. Here’s the synopsis: The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. The shrill siren song of a calliope beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery.
Essentially, the Devil in a carney’s top hat has come to town, and he seduces the townspeople with the return of all their hopes and dreams – for a price. It takes a while to get into Bradbury’s writing style, but the ultimate tale of good versus evil (and laughter over terror) will linger long after you’ve finished the book.
…And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (St. Martin’s Griffin/HarperCollins Canada)
Having included Gretchen McNeil’s excellent retelling in my previous list, I would be remiss if I did not include the original in my adult must-reads. Ten strangers are brought to an island off the coast of Devon, and one by one, they are killed off in a manner that eerily matches a children’s rhyme. The question isn’t so much “whodunnit” as “how” and “why”; with this book, Dame Christie proved that she was a master of manipulation. Some may prefer Poirot, while others are dyed in the wool Marple fans, but this stand-alone has lasted throughout the years. The ending still resonates with me, decades after I finished the book – a sign of a true classic.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Penguin)
Again, having mentioned the Kenneth Oppel reworkings of the Frankenstein myth, I must include the original version by Mary Shelley. Originally conceived as part of a ‘ghost story’ contest with her husband, Percy, and his friends, Lord Byron and John Polidori, Mary Shelley wrote this tale of a doctor scientist who creates a living monster, and who is subsequently horrified by what he has done. I was one of the few who didn’t read this in high school; when I did read it in university, the horror aspects lingered with me for days. Some call it the first science fiction tale, while others laud its Gothic elements. I love the references to galvanism, and the use of letters (I have a fondness for epistolary form). It’s also likely the reason why I’ll always be so picky about clarifying that Frankenstein is the scientist, and not the monster.
Red Rain by R. L Stine (Simon & Schuster Canada)
Perhaps best known for his Goosebumps series for kids, this foray into the adult genre has paid off for Stine. Trapped on a small island off the coast of South Carolina due to a hurricane, writer Lea Sutter survives the hurricane and, through a series of events, ends up adopting orphaned twin boys (Suspicious orphans! Twins! Creepiness alert!). However, these perfect children may not be all that they seem, and soon Lea’s husband is accused of murder, while the twins seem to have some kind of strange lure with the children in her town.
Yes, this reads like a YA book, yes, there are times when logic goes out the window … but you won’t really care. It’s a great book for the genre, and it hits all the right notes even as you are checking off the tropes used (evil twins? Check. Mysterious circumstances? Check. Slutty secretary/neighbour? Check.). If you grew up Stine’s early works, you will likely enjoy this one too.
So … what are YOUR adult or older teen reads for the season? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.