Time for another wrap up! I finished 11 books throughout October, bringing my total for the year so far up to 105. This exceeds my 100 book target, so that’s nice. Here are some brief thoughts on each of the books I picked up this month (many of which had a spooky or gothic tone, per the season). I’ve linked to my full reviews if you’d like to know more about any of the books mentioned.
The Wall by John Lanchester
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Solid and very readable, this dystopian book’s greatest flaw for me was simply how overly topical it was. By pitching its themes and narrative benchmarks so firmly in the present day (rising seas, closed borders, anti-immigration rhetoric, et al.), it fails to offer a new perspective on well worn themes. I can’t deny that I remained invested throughout, however, with interesting use of pacing and effective commentary on inter-generational tensions with regards to climate change and politics.
The Mist by Stephen King
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Despite this novella’s brevity in comparison to most of King’s other best-known works, he manages to create a tangible tension. As with my favourite works in this genre, the threat from fellow humans proves as deadly as that from the strange creatures that lurk within the eponymous mist. Leaving much of the horror to our imagination, it’s a taut, swift, and evocative read.
The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Exploring the origins of the Brides of Dracula, this book pays heavy homage to the gothic genre. It Looks at the concepts of fear and othering, and I was pleased with the way the author handled the character of Dracula himself. Though it dipped into melodrama at times, it was a consistently gripping and atmospheric read.
Dark Warm Heart by Rich Larson
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Decent tension and intrigue build towards an ending that is unsettling in its implications, if a little too understated to fully drive home the horror. There is, however, a good emphasis on the characters for such a brief tale, and a couple of moments that stand out visually.
Breaking and Mending by Joanna Cannon
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This anecdotal memoir explores Cannon’s time as a junior doctor. Her style is gentle and approachable, but she never shies away from how devastating life as a doctor (and a patient) can be. The book’s purpose is to humanize the staff of the NHS, to encourage open dialogue about the burnout that comes with the job, and to highlight the importance of implementing better support systems for those that give so much in exchange for so little.
Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Some of the striking imagery throughout this collection of feminist horror stories is sure to linger in the mind for quite some time. Exploring domestic, contemporary fears by spinning them into hypnotically claustrophobic fever dreams, there are a few absolute gems in here, but many of the 20 stories began to blur together, meaning it’s a collection I’ll remember more for its overall tone than I will for its specific plots and characters.
You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This unsettling and surprisingly provocative little tale takes many conventions of the haunted house narrative, throws in some genuinely chilling moments, and elevates it all by adding some clever though subtle allegory about artistic integrity and the pressures of parenthood.
The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] Though this is billed as a ghost story, it would be better described as a paranormal romance that explores the concept of the past haunting people and places. Though there was little directly wrong with the book, I found it all very inoffensive, and the shortfall between expectation and reality left me feeling largely apathetic.
Glass, Snow, Apples by Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This graphic novel reimagines the story of Snow White, by posing the following questions: What if everything Snow White told us about the ‘wicked queen’ was a lie? What if she was the evil one all along, and the queen was only ever trying to rid the world of a terrible evil? I loved the balance of darkness and poignancy in this one, and Doran’s gorgeous, ornate artwork really enhanced its impact.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This feminist, queer, sci-fi, horror debut follows the students of an all-girls school that is quarantined following the breakout of a strange disease that causes painful mutations. The imagery throughout is visceral and truly haunting. At once an exhilarating story of survival and a commentary on both the perils of girlhood and the impending danger of climate change, this was just the read I was in the mood for.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This graphic novel made for a great little reread during the spooky season. The setup requires a suspension of disbelief, but I liked Brosgol’s balance of fun and creepiness. I also appreciated the inclusion of wider themes surrounding self-acceptance, particularly concerning body image and the immigrant experience.
There we have it! My favourites this month were Wilder Girls and Glass, Snow, Apples. What was your favourite read in October?