So, you’re telling me the season for spook is over? Think again, buddies. Some people leave Christmas decorations up until after New Year’s. Others leave Halloween decorations up until after Thanksgiving. I make the rules in this house.
It’s been such a long while since we did anything in the Bibliove world, let alone a Recent Reads. Fair warning: I’m a very different person now from who I was last Halloween Edition. Once one of the biggest wimps on the block, I am now on a constant quest for the best “horror” books and movies. Quotations there because I’ll concede that true horror is defined differently for each of us, based on your scare spectrum and thresholds. 10 points to Slytherin if you can figure out what exactly it was that triggered my thresholds to expand as far as they have over these past two years. And no, the current state of global affairs does not count.
Two of the books on this list were technically read last year but with the way my life’s been going, that’s recent enough. The rest were found and / or read over the past few weeks, when another one of my manic (and, let’s be real, borderline blackout) book buying sprees occurred. If you’re new around here, these are the days when I wake up and find that there isn’t a single book in my many floor piles of books-to-be-read that fit the vibe I’m going for. All things must be dropped or rescheduled, an immediate trip to the bookstore must be made, and anything that passes the general vibe test must be clutched to my person until I’m willing to hand it over at the counter for the sales woman to give me a knowing smile, as if to say “we’ve all been there,” and kindly apply as many discounts as humanly possible because damage has been done here in this bookstore today.
It isn’t until I’m safely back home, stacking my haul on the floor with the rest of their brothers and sisters, that the mania dissipates and I can crack on with one of those new reads. Look, I could have worse habits.
Halloween may have come and gone but if you’re like me and you’re looking to stretch it out for a little bit longer then I present to you some of my favorite Recent Reads – Halloween Edition. Onward we go. Enjoy.
‘The Supernatural Enhancements’ by Edgar Cantero
This book is so great. A true favorite regardless of how recently I’ve read it. A related but not super relevant fun fact about me is that there is a direct correlation between the amount of unsettlement and stress going on in my personal life and my attention span for books. The worse one gets, the worse the other gets. This was the book that survived a double digit spell of pick-up-put-down switches during a particularly hairy life transition time a few months ago. As I said, so great.
What pulled me in was the style and format of the writing. It felt a bit like what I imagine listening to an old radio show would feel like. There were scenes in which the main characters were on the main stage, then scenes in which they were playing out an aside somewhere else, then intermission-type segue scenes in which you were exposed to letters or discussions that were tied to but not really part of the main attraction. From a plot perspective, the idea of a haunted house was used as a bit of a red herring for the broader “real life” mystery plot. All in all, ‘The Supernatural Enhancements’ is very uniquely written and very addictive. Highly recommend.
‘Strange Practice’ by Vivian Shaw
You had me at vampires and Doctor to the Undead, Vivian. Set in London (massive check one), Dr. Greta Helsing goes off on an adventure with her ancient vampire, demon, and ghoul friends (massive check two) to take down a sect of supernatural monks (massive check two-and-a-half because there is also a budding romance between the Doctor and one of the aforementioned ancient vampires, which is a massive check to end all checks as far as I’m concerned).
You lost me at ‘Strange Practice’ being the first in a series. In my younger years I could crush a 13+ book series without giving it a second thought, but now there are just too many things to read that I couldn’t possibly commit unless the first one is an 11 out of 10. Not to mention series are difficult to manage with my constant war on paperback publishing delays. Get your hardcover release dates out of my face.
That being said, this one is a fun read. The plot is good, the writing is good. And don’t fret, the series aspect doesn’t make this any less of a standalone. I’d rather read an entire book dedicated to Ruthven though and I suppose I can thanks to John William Polidori… but something tells me that it just won’t be the same. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that spin-off.
‘City of Ghosts’ by Victoria Schwab
Despite the fact that I Did Not Like ‘A Darker Shade of Magic,’ which is by the same author just with a slightly adjusted pen name, the synopsis on the back of this one was hard to turn down. A young teenage girl who sees ghosts and is traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland for the summer because her parents are paranormal historians / investigators? Didn’t realize someone had been scouring the recesses of my brain for story material lately. Another series, which is unfortunate, but this is a lovely read with some ace character development of the three main youngsters (one of them is a ghost and that’s not a spoiler so don’t get mad at me).
‘City of Ghosts’ is technically for a younger demographic, but if you’ve given up on children’s or young adult books then you need to sit yourself down and sort yourself out because they have some of the best plots and life lessons that I’ve ever encountered. Maybe authors feel less pressured to develop kitschy narrative styles or something, but wow oh wow do books for younger audiences really punch you right in the heart sometimes. Don’t knock ’em. Try ’em.
‘The Price Guide to the Occult’ by Leslye Walton
Not only is the physical printing of the book absolutely gorgeous (see red pages under skull above), but as is the setting and imagery that Walton conjures. Oh so wondrous. Lush greenery galore on an island that feels more alive than the humans inhabiting it.
I love a good cursed-by-the-sorrows-of-the-scorned-matriarch-witch witch book. Think ‘Practical Magic’ meets ‘Beautiful Creatures’ then add a dash of teenage grunge sass and you’ve got ‘The Price Guide to the Occult.’ There’s a female bloodline curse, an evil mother on a power bender, a faithful familiar… what more could you possibly ask for? Better acknowledgement of the fact that the main character’s grandmother slash the book’s main living matriarch is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, that’s what. Otherwise, I’m delighted with this one. There were definitely a few setups at the end that could lend to a follow-up if Walton so chooses to write it, but they weren’t so dramatic as to make the reader feel like they didn’t get closure. This is a story for witch (are you having that?) I’d pick up the next one in the series.
‘The Rules of Magic’ by Alice Hoffman
Speaking of ‘Practical Magic,’ this book happens to be its prequel. ‘The Rules of Magic’ has been sitting at the bottom of one of my books-to-be-read piles for ages and, I’ll be honest, it’s been left down there for so long because Hoffman’s writing in ‘Practical Magic’ wasn’t exactly my favorite thing of all time (even though the movie adaptation means more to me than most things ever could). It had its moments, Hoffman’s just isn’t really my cauldron of tea. Once HBO announced a potential pilot for ‘The Rules of Magic’ though I knew I had to hop to it in order to settle on my usual footing of reading the books before watching the adaptations. Girl’s got a brand to keep around here.
Anyways, in this prequel The Aunts are much younger (but not any less feisty) and are learning about the hardships of life and magic in New York City. There is the addition of a brother to Fanny and Jet, and if you’re familiar with ‘Practical Magic’ then you can probably figure out the connections if you really think about it but I won’t say any more about him than that. There was a part approximately halfway through this book that made me start to cry and next thing I knew I couldn’t stop crying for the next few hours until I finished it completely. That could have been a me and my emotional state problem or it could have been classic Alice Hoffman hitting you with those quality one-liners. You can decide.
‘Alice’ by Christina Henry
This one has to have a caveat thrown out there because technically it’s a Currently Reading selection. I’m about 100 pages in as of writing this. So far, it’s got a few of my favorite things going for it. ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Asylums. Seers. Horror. I’m a sucker for a good fairytale retelling (‘The Lunar Chronicles,’ I still see you… ‘Charm,’ I try really hard not to see you) and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ retellings might be up there as the record setter on my shelves.
Within the first 25 to 30 pages Henry makes it abundantly clear that you’re in a much darker and more adult version of the tale you thought you knew. Inclusive of some stomach dropping abusive assault moments that aren’t the easiest things to read. I’ve never read or seen Handmaid’s Tale, but I assume this is along the same lines (Game of Thrones, looking at you too). Why is this the new form of female character building these days? I can’t speak for all women here, but I personally find myself quite capable of fathoming the struggles of my gender in past, present, and future well enough without the added and increased tortures of physical and sexual assault, thank you very much. Fingers crossed that writers of television, movies, and books let us get to know female characters for themselves, and not for what the horrors of men have turned them into.
Still not sold on the idea of recommendations, so if you have any and you keep them to yourself then I wouldn’t mind. But if you find you absolutely must pass them along then I suppose I won’t turn my back on you completely… unless they’re true crime or excessive gore. I still draw a hard line in the fake blood on those.
As always, feel free to follow along with my real time bibliove over on Goodreads.