Halloween reading

Hallowe’en Party

By Agatha Christie

Halloween_PartyWe don’t manage it every year, but we like to read seasonal books when we can, especially spooky Halloween stories. Not especially spooky, but I was thrilled that Agatha Christie had a Halloween novel! Hercule Poirot is summoned by a friend to a small village after a young girl is found drowned in the apple bobbing bucket at the end of the village’s halloween party. This probably wouldn’t have been an intriguing enough mystery for Poirot to expend his energy in retirement on, but the drowned girl had been insisting earlier in the party that she had witnessed a murder. A known liar, no one had believed her, so it seemed somewhat reckless for the murderer to then do away with her and give her words more importance.

As with all of Christie’s mysteries, this was excellently plotted and I had only the faintest guess as to the conclusion shortly before it was revealed. Despite this, Hallowe’en Party is not one of my favorites of hers. Published in 1969 towards the end of her life, I couldn’t help but wonder she was getting cranky in an “old man yells at cloud” kind of way. There is a fairly heavy-handed theme of the degeneracy of the younger generation, with at least half a dozen of Poirot’s contemporaries mentioning the rising crime rate among youths and the misguided mercy of showing them any leniency in the justice system. Which does not read very well in today’s climate of harsh and obviously biased policing. I was concerned that the entire plot would serve as a platform for this philosophy, but fortunately, Christie was too canny of an author to fall into that obvious indulgence.

Pumpkin Heads

By Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

PumpkinheadsI was a little hesitant about reading this since Eleanor and Park broke me a little bit, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for any more of Rowell’s type of coming-of-age story, but this is much more light hearted! Deja and Josiah are best friends who work together at the world’s greatest pumpkin patch – I mean, there are pumpkins, of course, but there’s bumper cars, mini golf, s’mores bonfires, petting zoo animals, pony rides, corn maze, and every possible fall-season snack you can think of (and a few more)! (In the afterward, Rowell says she was inspired by some of Omaha’s excellent pumpkin patches, but that she and Hicks created their fantasy patch.)

Anyway, Deja and Josiah have worked together at the Succotash Hut (perhaps the one stop that I wouldn’t have been super excited about) for the last four years, but they are graduating high school, and going on to college, so this is their last year. In fact, this story is the last day of their last year, and Deja is determined that shy Josiah will actually talk to the girl that works at the fudge shop (yum!) that he’s been pining over from afar for the entire time.

This leads them all over the park, into and out of various hijinx, and of course they learn important things about life and themselves along the way, but with a light touch that mostly just celebrates everything fall, holidays, and friendship. Rowell’s writing is so funny and empathetic, Hicks’ art is lovely and really brought this dream park to life, and the whole thing left me feeling very warm hearted!

ComicFest_2019Also, this is your annual reminder that today is Halloween ComicFest, so if that’s your thing, see if one of your local comic shops is hosting an event here. We stopped by two of our local shops, and picked up an excess of kid-friendly comics, since we’ve found them to be even more popular with trick-or-treaters than candy.

Slade House

By David Mitchell

Slade_HouseKinsey has read a fair number of Mitchell’s books, but this is my first one, and the only way I was able to put it down at all was to try to stretch it out for longer, it was so good! It is also very spooky, so I recommend it for a good October reading, leading up to Halloween. (I realize I’m cutting it a bit close here.)

The story is broken into five chapters, which are all set in the same mysterious house but which each take place 9 years later than the previous one. That alone would be enough to get me, but what really sold me was that each chapter is told in first-person from people from a fairly wide variety of backgrounds and, of course, generations.

The first chapter is set in 1979, with a young teenage boy, clearly on the autism spectrum, accompanying his middle-class but social-climbing mother to an afternoon soiree at the prestigious Slade House. Because this first narrator doesn’t always see things the way neurotypical people might, the awareness that something is off about Slade House came to me gradually. Which, of course, only enhanced the spookiness!

Each chapter unlocks more about what is going on in the house, until the final climatic reveal, which takes a bit of an L from where it appeared to be going. This turned out to be a bit controversial in my household, where I thought it was an intriguing departure from the norm, and Rebecca thought it was lame (though she really enjoyed the rest of the book).

Halloween ComicFest

ComicFest 2014I did not know this was a thing until yesterday evening, but now I’m all pumped to go tomorrow: apparently, in addition to Free Comic Book Day in May, comic stores have Halloween ComicFest, where they offer free Halloween-themed comics! I don’t actually have anything to add to that: Halloween! Free comic books! (Okay, I’ll add two things: one of the free comics is done by Terry Moore, who did (does?) Strangers in Paradise, and one is done by Loeb and Sale, the team that created Batman: The Long Halloween, both series I’ve very much enjoyed.)

The Shining Girls

As if the sudden chill in the air, the changing leaves, and the dark evenings weren’t enough to convince me that fall is officially here, my apartment building decided to get in on the action this week by setting up an ENORMOUS inflatable grim reaper in the lobby. It’s just decoration for the annual Halloween party, but it looms over you in an ominous way when you’re checking your mail. And speaking of things that kind of freak me out, The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is an excellent book to read to get you in the Halloween mood by scaring the bejeezus out of you.

Serial killers and their victims may seem like well-covered material, but this version has a twist–the killer has found a house in Chicago that allows him to travel through time, killing women in Chicago throughout the 1900s. But one of his planned victims survived, and she’s on a mission to figure out who attacked her, no matter how strange the answer might be. The action alternates between the killer and the survivor, and the tension builds as their stories converge. And the occasional chapter following one of the doomed women feel like tiny historical fiction stories, providing snapshots of life at various points in the twentieth century.

There are a lot of things that make me want to recommend this book, including a compelling mystery, a kick-ass female lead character, and a compelling first-person view inside the mind of the killer. But it is a very dark, very creepy, and at times hard to read–I had to stop reading it right before bed because it was giving me nightmares. Also, something bad happens to a dog. But if you’re looking for something to scare you a bit, this is a solid bet.

Kinsey’s (Approximately) Three Word Review: Criminal Minds meets Quantum Leap

You might also like:  Any of the mysteries by Tana French or Gillian Flynn–I know I recommend these two all the time, but they have a similar feeling. And Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro has a similar mystery combined with a slightly different universe than ours.

The Uninvited Guests

By Sadie Jones

Book Cover: The Uninvited GuestsThis is just the strangest little book! Kinsey recommended it last year as a good spooky story for Halloween reading, and I’ve only now gotten around to reading it. I’m not even sure quite what to think. Oh, I liked it a lot, but was never quite sure where I was standing with it, either.

It started as one of those impoverished English gentry books (you know, where the insular family starts to decay along with their surroundings?); it reminded me a bit of Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. Then things took a turn for the worse and it was a bit of an adult Lord of the Flies, which was actually pretty horrifying, though still in a disconcertingly genteel way. As the various mysteries were revealed, though, I realized exactly what this book is: it is a written Edward Gorey illustration.

In fact, it is so much Edward Gorey that when I searched to find a representative illustration, I found the following eight that are literally characters or scenes from the book. I’m putting them after the cut, not because they are spoilers, really, but so I don’t fill up the entire home page with lots and lots of Gorey illustrations. Continue reading