Like many people, there was a definite Halloween flavour to a lot of my reading this month, in which I got through a total of 11 books (5 novels, a novella, a non-fiction book, a poetry collection, a Little Black Classic, a graphic novel and a collection of plays). This means my total for 2017 is now sitting at 107, having surpassed my goal of 100.
I’ve played around with the format of my wrap up this month to hopefully make things a little less of a ramble and a bit more coherent, so let’s just jump right in, in the order I read them.
Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] What better way to kick off the month than with a five-star read? This great little mystery certainly continued my blossoming love affair with Christie’s work. The way she set out the various characters’ motives and developed the complex web of secrets and lies between them all was as masterful as you’d expect. Technically perfect by modern standards it may not be, but it’s proper, old-school cosy crime at its best, encapsulating the mood of its time and genre excellently.
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A brilliantly creepy read, the sense of dread that builds throughout this book got right under my skin. The story follows a young couple who move into an apartment block and become suspicious of the elderly neighbours who seem very invested in their unborn baby. I thought Rosemary was a fantastic character, in some ways an everywoman of the 60s that made her relatable, no doubt, but also witty, smart, likable and proactive, responding in very realistic ways to the horrors that unfold before her.
The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Andersen
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] I love classic fairy tales, and whilst the selection featured in this little edition may not all have been my favourites of Andersen’s work, it was still an enjoyably whimsical read.
Carrie by Stephen King
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] We all know the concept of Carrie, and the outcome is made largely clear from the outset. What thus makes it so impressive is how King manages to hold our interest and build tension and pathos regardless. As a character, Carrie is so well drawn that despite her supernatural abilities and the horrors she ultimately unleashes, we can’t help but feel sympathetic towards her. By structuring the story in the way he does, King shows us that it’s the ‘normal’ people who are the true monsters here.
The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] I found this book completely underwhelming, sadly. I love the concept and themes it sets out to explore; a realistic dystopian about a flooded Britain and displaced refugees from the perspective of a new mother. The structure, the writing style and the characterisation are all so sparse however that I felt held at arm’s length the entire time, meaning there was no emotional impact. I could feel the author’s desire to write a ‘beautiful’ and ‘unique’ book, and for me this was to the detriment of her setting, plot and characters.
I am Legend by Richard Matheson
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] For starters, I would say don’t be put off if you like the concept of this book but didn’t enjoy the film version starring Will Smith; they’re very, very different. It’s as much a story of survival against bloodthirsty vampires as it is the story of one man’s struggles to hold onto his sanity in the face of grief, loneliness and isolation, as he fears he’s the last man standing. Matheson gets inside his protagonist’s head brilliantly; infuses some great emotional impact, and makes a solid attempt to make the horror feel all the more unsettling by basing everything in plausible scientific fact, which I appreciate in sci-fi.
Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] ‘I bet you think you know this story. / You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.’ That sums this book up perfectly; classic fairy tales retold in Dahl’s dark, witty verse; ideal for any age. I loved it.
The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A decent, quick read for the Halloween season, this ghost story from Hill had a great concept and settings that lent themselves well to a creepy tale. The problem for me was that the ending was inevitable from the start, meaning the 150 pages to get there felt overdone, and so for me, it would have worked better as a short story. Hill’s style is very direct and fuss-free, meaning it’s easy to get through but won’t sweep you up; I did rather enjoy the ominous last line though, and added an extra half-star on for that alone.
Branded by the Pink Triangle by Ken Setterington
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This non-fiction book asks us to remember the often-forgotten horrors that were inflicted upon gay men under Nazi rule. Setterington pitches it perfectly, with his style being accessible and readable without dumbing down or shying away from the upsetting subject matter. He also very cleverly structures the book by basing the information around real men’s individual experiences, meaning they never feel like faceless statistics or numbers, and thus humanising the pain and making it all the more relatable.
Girls Like That and Other Plays by Evan Placey
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is a collection of four plays starring (and aimed predominantly at) young people, that tackle issues that are relevant to them in the modern world and explore notions of acceptance, diversity and kindness, by tackling themes such as sexuality, gender, class, cyberbullying, peer pressure, and suchlike. I enjoyed them all, and love the concept of getting more young people interested in theatre, but Pronoun, the last play, was by far my favourite, being touching and powerful, with beautifully-drawn, layered characters.
Monstress Volume One by Marjorie Liu (writing) and Sana Takeda (art)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] The first instalment in a graphic novel series, this blends elements of fantasy, sci-fi and horror, but came off feeling a bit of a muddle for me. Liu drops us in at the deep end and provides very little in the way of explanation or context for the magic, creatures and lore of her complex world, meaning I was left feeling confused and a bit cold, sadly. This has high ratings though, and I don’t read much fantasy, so it’s very possible I’m in the minority.
There we have it! It was a great reading month overall, and I’m excited to see what books November will bring my way.
What was your favourite read in October?