The all-horror marathon continued in the second half of October! And thankfully it picked up a bit, because I was a bit slow in the first half. I never used to get in book slumps but I’ve found it happening every few months this year. I’m not really sure why, but I get in moods where I don’t want to read or none of the books I pick up hold my interest. It’s never very hard for me to get out of it, but it’s annoying as hell. I had SO many more books on my Spooktober TBR that I didn’t get to! But I did Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon again. The April one was more successful for me, (I read the same number of books both times–6–but far more pages in April) but I was very happy with the progress I made this time.
Let The Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Finished October 22nd. This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to get to for ages. It’s a modern classic in the horror genre, and I love all the various takes on vampires we’ve been getting. So why didn’t I read it sooner? No clue. But I think the hype might have hurt this a little bit for me because it didn’t quite live up to expectations.
In many ways, this is an incredibly effective piece of horror. The characterization is fantastic, especially with our main character Oskar who is incredibly complex, and the vampire Eli. I loved their interactions and creepy/cute relationship: it read very much like a true-to-life vampire story rather than the romanticized plots we often get in this genre. The push/pull between them is absolutely the highlight of the novel for me.
As in many good horror books, this has classic horror elements but the real terror comes from humanity. Eli’s keeper/protector is a pedophile and the scenes in his head, while not overly graphic or exploitative, are so distressing. There is a group of boys picking on Oskar and any of those scenes was hard to read as well, because both of these things (child abuse and bullying) happen crushingly often in real life. Many of the characters’ relationships are also tragic: the drunk dad who Oskar wants to believe in but always lets him down, the teenager who hates his stepdad and feels like he is losing his mother, the lovers who would just could never make it work and always end up apart. It’s the sadness and tragedy of the real life, magnified. You barely even need the vampire element for all of these elements to do their job.
But there are vampire elements… a lot of them. I was actually taken aback at how gruesome and violent this book gets. Some of it is incredibly chilling and well-done, but I felt like other scenes were done purely for shock factor. It was a little TOO much in a book that didn’t need so much gore. I think the shock factor would have been more pronounced if these scenes were more spread out: they lost their effectiveness after the 20th “gross out” moment in 100 pages. I did love the more realistic vampire moments, but a lot of others just felt forced (especially the cat one, you know what I’m talking about if you read it).
I also thought there were a few too many characters and plotlines. We have tons of POV characters and one of the storylines (Tommy/Steffan) could have been cut completely without losing anything. It felt a bit bloated, especially towards the end when everything came together in a pretty halfhearted way. The Eli/Oskar/Hakan/bullies and Lacke/Virginia storylines were all this really needed.
It’s better for a book to have too much instead of not enough, but at the end of the day it just felt bloated. I found the first half far more effective and memorable (except for a few end Eli scenes).
The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe, by Peter Clines. Finished October 22nd. As a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson. I read each at least a dozen times, and wanted to get shipwrecked on a deserted island. It all seemed terribly romantic and probably sparked my lifelong love of survival stories. I’m also a massive Lovecraft fan, an author I discovered a few years after my Robinson/Swiss obsession but read just as many times. Add in Peter Clines, who wrote one of my favorite comedy-horrors 14, and what could go wrong? Nothing, that’s what.
I think this is really only a book you should read if you’ve read and loved both Robinson Crusoe and Lovecraft’s major works. It’s a mashup novel, so it takes the basic plot of RC and reimagines it: what if he landed on a strange Lovecraftian island full of terror? And just for fun, what if he was a werewolf too? Turns out werewolves do NOT like Cthulhu. At all.
The key elements of the book (detailed logs of survival methods, a sense of hope despite the bleak circumstances) are kept intact, as are the Lovecraftian plot points (cultists! fish people! monsters in the waves! ia! ia!). They mesh surprisingly well, and Clines adds in tons of unexpected twists and turns. There are so many subtle Lovecraft references that any fangirl or fanboy will be incredibly happy. And while all the elements are classic and well-trod, there are some events you absolutely do not see coming. And yes, the werewolf thing fits in perfectly. In fact, I think that makes it a much better book, even though at first glance you’d probably think, “okay, that’s way too much.”
I 100% can’t be objective about this book because I love all of the elements. It seriously feels like this was written for me. Sure, the writing is old-fashioned, the plot slow, the inner monologue of Crusoe repetitive. But all of these potentially negative elements are incredibly true to the original. For what this is, it’s perfect.
Vlad, by Carlos Fuentes. Finished October 22nd. The original Dracula is one of my favorite books, and one that I’ve read over and over again. I’m always drawn to retellings/reimaginings of the plot, so how could I resist Vlad? Dracula in Mexico City, where the crime is rampant and the police basically don’t care about missing people. It seems like the perfect fit–and it is, though I think that being the “plot summary” is a bit misleading.
There’s zero scenes of Dracula roaming around Mexico City. The entire novella is told from the perspective of Yves, a lawyer helping Vlad to buy a house with some very specific necessities… like blacked out windows and a drain in every room. Vlad finally finds his home and becomes very interested in Yves’ wife and daughter. It’s very much a play on the original Jonathan/Dracula/Mina scenario, though with an updated twist of course.
This is a short book, and I think that’s where it suffers for me. The original Dracula is so immersive, a world you can truly get lost in. Vlad is beautifully written and has moments of real horror (the scene with the daughters oh my god), but I never felt quite invested in it. I think that might be my own fault: this is definitely as much a critique of society in Mexico as it is a play on Dracula, and I came into it only looking for the latter. As social commentary it’s pretty scathing, but what I wanted from this was just different from what I got.
The October Country, by Ray Bradbury. Finished October 22nd. For October I really wanted to read some Halloween-feeling books, and what’s better than a short story collection by Bradbury with the month right in the title?
This is a melancholy collection, full of more sorrow than frights. While not every story hit the mark for me (when is that ever true in a collection, though?) I enjoyed the vast majority of them. And it was a really fun read for the month: I did a story a night for most of October, and it definitely added to the “seasonal” feel.
X’s For Eyes, by Laird Barron. Finished October 22nd. If Bret Easton Ellis wrote Lovecraft fan fiction, it’d probably look a lot like this book. I tend to prefer Barron’s short stories to both his novels and novellas, and that holds true here, but it was still a rollicking romp through nightmare land. Secret corporations, espionage, demented children, cosmic horror, visceral violence, arctic exploration… and a lot more. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point for Barron (any of his first 3 short story collections would be a much better introduction) but if you’re a fan it’s probably not to be skipped.
A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. Finished October 22nd. What is there to say about this book that has not already been said? It broke my heart. Again. This was actually a re-read for me during Dewey’s Readathon. I wanted to cap the night off with a beloved favorite, and I’ve had this sitting on top of my TBR pile for ages. But I wanted perfect “read before the movie” timing and it wasn’t going to get much better than this.
If you haven’t read this, you probably should. I think it has near-universal appeal in the way it deals with grief and loss. I cried the first time I read it, I cried the second time, I’ll probably sob like a little baby when I watch the movie. If you like books packed full of feels, or that whimsical/creepy vibe a lot of older children’s literature has, this cannot be missed.
The Doom that Came to Gotham, by Mike Mignola. Finished October 23rd. Continuing my (apparent) Halloween theme of Lovecraft x Things I Love with a Batman crossover! Which really does seem quite natural considering that Batman has always had Lovecraft references in it (Arkham!).
This was a fun ride, and I think started off much stronger than it finished. The real problem is that there’s just SO much going on. We have every Bat-character under the sun: Batman, most of the Robins, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Penguin, Etrigan, Talia, Ras, Harvey Dent, Green Arrow… and that’s not even a comprehensive list. The story itself is a mashup of several Lovecraft tales, though it pulls most heavily from “At The Mountains of Madness.” There’s just too much story for 157 pages, at least half the cast/plot should have been cut.
Oddly enough, none of the Elder Gods are referred to by their real names, but are given “sound-alike” ones (Iog-Sotha instead of Yog-Sothoth, for example) which seemed like a weird choice given how many other authors just pull directly from the mythos without such changes. There are so many clever Lovecraft references that I think non-hardcore fans would miss (Mr. Freeze being given a Cool Air origin story, for example), and some of the villains are hard to guess if you’re not familiar with Batman, so it’s really something only fans of both will enjoy. Definitely worth the read if Batman x Lovecraft sounds appealing to you, but not as deep or interesting as it could have been.
I Am Providence, by Nick Mamatas. Finished October 25th. You know the episodes of Supernatural that take place at their fan convention and are about the crazy fans? Imagine that level of snark and meta-ness… about a Lovecraft convention. But it’s also a murder mystery. Yeah, basically I Am Providence in an nutshell.
I kind of had a love-hate relationship with this book (though it was mostly love). It’s REALLY snarky, about both Lovecraft and the modern Lovecraftian fiction. Obviously this is meant to be satire, and since Mamatas writes in the genre it’s good-natured, but some of probably stings a little for avid Lovecraftian fans. Until you step back and say, “yeah, so you really have a point there.” At the same time, you have to be a huge fan of Lovecraft and modern mythos stuff for this book to be remotely enjoyable. So it walks a very thin line between “I love this book” and “I hate this book” for pretty much every reader, I’m sure… and I think that was 100% intentional. It’s clever and pretty brave to attempt something like this, and it was so much fun. Sure, the murder mystery itself isn’t that interesting, but the characters and mood were a blast.
Swift to Chase, by Laird Barron. Finished October 28th. Can we talk about this book cover? Because it’s perfect. Absolutely my favorite cover of the year.
It kind of kills me to not give a Laird Barron story collection 5 stars. I’m obsessed with his cosmos and his other 3 collections, and perhaps I would have enjoyed Swift to Chase a little more if I wasn’t such a fangirl. Which seems weird to say, right? But Swift goes in a very different direction than his previous work, and is more tonally in line with the novellas he’s been putting out. Darker, more violent, but with less oppressive cosmic horror and more of a grit-lit feel.
That’s not so say that he has totally dumped his previous cosmos. But this book feels like it was written in a world… adjacent to his previous ones. There are a few mentions of the Black Guide and the Leech, but Swift introduces different cosmic elements into play and they’re far more the focus of these stories. It doesn’t feel tightly knit together with his other stories… which makes sense, since in the introduction it’s mentioned that Swift will be part of a “new trilogy” of story collections.
I feel like I’m coming off quite negative! Don’t get me wrong, this is an amazing collection, and the later half in particular delivers all the creep and terror I want from a Laird Barron collection. I just feel like the first section is a bit weaker–though other readers seem to think it’s some of his best work, so don’t take my word for it!
A Night in Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny. Finished October 31st. This was my October “project.” it’s a book with 31 chapters, one taking place on each night of October, and I read them one-a-day for the entire month. Okay, one day I fell asleep early and read 2 the following night, but other than that I was right on time! Which, I think, really enhanced the experience. This is a super quick read and quite short, so I don’t think I would have liked it as much if I breezed through.
Told from the point of view of a wizard (of sorts)’s familiar, who happens to be a dog, this is the tale of a Halloween Game. The reader doesn’t learn what the Game really is until the last few chapters: our narrator, Snuff, speaks to the reader and other characters as if we’re all equally in the know and never feels the need to explain anything. It’s clever, and everything comes together so seamlessly in the end. Plus, lots of guest appearances by famous horror characters and monsters! Most of the players in the Game are literary characters, though it takes a while to figure out who is what.
This is a really unique take on the comedy horror genre: most of the main characters are the animal familiars, rather than the actual players, and the perspective is drastically different because of that.
Greener Pastures, by Michael Wehunt. Finished October 31st. Somehow October went from “spooky book month” to “New Weird author month” in the last few weeks. Every time I went to rate a book Michael Wehunt’s Greener Pastures popped up and it was obviously a sign from the reading gods. Also I can’t stick to a set schedule of books and impulsively read anything that looks new and shiny, and boy oh boy was this looking shiny to me in October.
Thankfully, it’s one of the best things I read this month, probably only topped by The Fisherman (which is, like, top 5 of 2016 for me). Every story in here is a glimmering jewel of horror. Some stories are pure nightmare fuel, others are subdued and quiet horror, but they are consistently amazing. I don’t think there was a dud in the whole collection. And it switches tone so artfully: there’s everything from a House of Leaves inspired piece of metafiction to a love story riddled with body horror to a more traditional (but twisted) possession tale. A little something for everyone, but I think the appeal of most of them stretches way beyond the horror/new weird genre. If you like Laird Barron, John Langan, Paul Tremblay, or any of the writers in that circle this is a must read. Absolutely cannot recommend it enough.
So as you can see, October was a very successful month for me! Not my best of the year, but close, and I had quite a few 5-star reads. Sometimes I worry that I’m a little too fast-and-loose with my star ratings because I know some people are VERY strict with them, but whatever, I try to rate based on how a book makes me feel. Not every 5-star book is equal in my heart, obviously, but it’s more a scale of enjoyment than “this is objectively amazing.” Because where’s the fun in that?
Reading Challenge Goals
24/35 Series Books
63/50 TBR Books
24/15 Different Countries