For some reason, I read a LOT of scary books in November. Well, not a lot, but a lot more than I would normally read.
I read quite a few books this month, and enjoyed most of them. I even found a new favourite…
1. The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey.
Premise: “Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.”
This was a fantastic book to start November with. It did distract me a little bit from NaNoWriMo. I honestly couldn’t put it down. Every day on my lunch break I was like, ‘I’ll write in a MINUTE, but I need to know what happens to Melanie, and when are they gonna get to Beacon, and where did that soldier guy go, and HOW THE HELL ARE THEY GONNA GET OUT OF THIS MESS?!?!!?!!?’
(NaNoWriMo is basically dead by this point anyway. I mean, it’s a children’s book so I was aiming more for 30K anyway, but I haven’t even managed that. Oops.)
You should read it. It’s so not the type of book I would normally read, but I loved it. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a book that much. I’ve had a couple of 5-star reads lately, which is actually kind of unusual for me, but it’s been ages since I’ve really devoured a book the way I did The Girl With All the Gifts. (Like zombies devour stuff. Ahahahahahaha I did a pun.)
The ending was so unexpected and clever, and the book asks a lot of big questions. I found it to be quite an important book for such mainstream fiction: it draws on a lot of Greek mythology and it discusses moral dilemmas including sacrifice constantly throughout the story. The author continually questions the value placed on human life above the lives of other creatures.
I made the mistake, though, of reading it a lot at night, so for the first few days of November I didn’t sleep very well because I thought zombies were going to sneak out at me from behind my mirror ‘cos that’s where zombies hide.
My Rating: 5/5
2. The Rib From Which I Remake The World by Ed Kurtz.
Premise: “What begins with a gruesome and impossible murder soon spirals into hallucinatory waking nightmares for hotel house detective Jojo in World War II Arkansas. Black magic and a terrifying Luciferian carnival boil up to a surreal finale for the town of Litchfield, and Jojo Walker is forced to face his own identity in ways he could never have imagined.”
This had a good beginning that gripped me, but it failed to hold my interest. I definitely felt that I was forcing myself to keep reading. The female characters in this were terrible: they were overly sexualised and most were portrayed as quite stupid. Two women do ‘help’ the (male) protagonist at the end of the book, but I feel like their absence wouldn’t really have changed the way things went for him.
In places, the writing style is brilliantly lyrical, but mostly it relies on Frankie Boyle-esque shock factor, which wasn’t especially shocking anyway. The characters, both male and female, were flat and unlikeable. The writing style surrounded them reminded me of Stephen King’s characters, but not as endearing.
My Rating: 1/5
3. The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks.
Premise: “I can’t believe I fell for it. It was still dark when I woke up this morning. As soon as my eyes opened I knew where I was. A low-ceilinged rectangular building made entirely of whitewashed concrete. There are six little rooms along the main corridor. There are no windows. No doors. The lift is the only way in or out. What’s he going to do to me? What am I going to do? If I’m right, the lift will come down in five minutes. It did. Only this time it wasn’t empty . . .”
This was intense and unputdownable.
A lot of reviews complain about the depressing ending to this, but it worked well for me. Yes, it was somewhat frustrating, but for once, the ‘keep the reader guessing’ technique heightened my enjoyment of the book. I was frustrated because I wanted the book to be longer, rather than because I felt let down. (And just because it’s a fictional story doesn’t mean it has to have a happy ending!)
I do wish that more had been revealed, though; I wanted to know what the point of this social experiment was. Why did he want to ‘train’ them, and get them to ask politely for food, and ask forgiveness whenever they tried to escape?
My Rating: 5/5
4. Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell.
Premise: “We’re waiting for you to come and play… Dunvegan School for Girls has been closed for many years. Converted into a family home, the teachers and students are long gone. But they left something behind… Sophie arrives at the old schoolhouse to spend the summer with her cousins. Brooding Cameron with his scarred hand, strange Lilias with a fear of bones and Piper, who seems just a bit too good to be true. And then there’s her other cousin. The girl with a room full of antique dolls. The girl that shouldn’t be there. The girl that died.”
Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment because I decided to pick up an actual ghost story so soon after a book about zombies. My reading habits rebelled a bit in November.
This wasn’t exactly a sophisticated read but it was really enjoyable, and quite scary in places. (I am easily scared, though, so it’ll probably be a walk in the park for you.) I found the whole ‘ouiji board app’ thing a bit laughable, but I suppose it was a good leeway into the ghostly goings-on. Considering the app, it must have been set in the modern day, but I did think that the way a lot of the characters talked was a bit old-fashioned.
So yeah, it relied on cliches a bit and the setting could have done with more work and originality. But as a whole the story was really interesting and it definitely gave me chills.
My Rating: 3.5/5
5. Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists by J. K. Rowling.
Premise: “These stories of power, politics and pesky poltergeists give you a glimpse into the darker side of the wizarding world, revealing the ruthless roots of Professor Umbridge, the lowdown on the Ministers for Magic and the history of the wizarding prison Azkaban. You will also delve deeper into Horace Slughorn’s early years as Potions master at Hogwarts – and his acquaintance with one Tom Marvolo Riddle.”
When I heard about these ebooks, I rolled my eyes. I knew it was just going to be rehashed content from Pottermore, and I couldn’t believe they had the cheek to charge us for what was already available on the website! So I thought, ‘Pfft, I’m not buying that.’
Then I went to see the Fantastic Beasts movie, and I wanted more Potter.
I am glad that I read this. I didn’t remember a lot of the content – I don’t know if this is because it’s brand new, or just because I skimmed it on the website. However, I like the way it’s packaged up and it all flows nicely, rather than having to click all over the place to find the information on the internet.
It’s still fucking cheeky though.
My Rating: 5/5 (But still cheeky)
6. Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide by J. K. Rowling.
Premise: “Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide takes you on a journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You’ll venture into the Hogwarts grounds, become better acquainted with its more permanent residents, learn more about lessons and discover secrets of the castle . . . all at the turn of a page.”
I expected this to be the book I’d enjoy most, but I think Pesky Poltergeists (above) was probably my favourite of the three ebooks. I can’t really remember much of what was in this. I liked the story behind the Hogwarts Express, though again, I’m not sure if it was brand new or if I just don’t remember it on the website.
My Rating: 5/5 (Still cheeky bastards)
7. Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies by J. K. Rowling.
Premise: “These stories of heroism, hardship and dangerous hobbies profile two of the Harry Potter stories’ most courageous and iconic characters: Minerva McGonagall and Remus Lupin. J.K. Rowling also gives us a peek behind the closed curtains of Sybill Trelawney’s life, and you’ll encounter the reckless, magical-beast-loving Silvanus Kettleburn along the way.”
This was my least favourite ‘Pottermore read’. I clearly remembered reading McGonagall and Lupin’s stories, and I didn’t feel like I was getting a lot for my money with this one because I’m not especially interested in Kettleburn, and you don’t really get much insight into Trelawney. I did tear up a bit at Lupin’s story, though, despite having read it once before.
My Rating: 5/5 (I can’t believe how cheeky they are) (Cheeky no longer looks like a real word)
8. The Book Collector by Alice Thompson.
Premise: “Violet is obsessed with the books of fairy tales her husband acquires, but her growing delusions see her confined in an asylum. As she recovers and is released, a terrifying series of events is unleashed.”
I’m not sure what drew me to this book, apart from the fact that it was quite short and I wanted to be reading something, anything, because I could feel a slump coming on and wanted to beat it before it had a chance to take hold!
To be honest, I don’t really know if I liked it or not. There were moments – the violent and gothic moments – that I really enjoyed (what does that say about me?) but in general I found Thompson’s writing style a bit simplistic and tedious. However, that could just be because I’ve been reading quite mainstream books lately and this was a bit more literary.
My Rating: 3/5 (I think!)
9. Fellside by M. R. Carey.
Premise: “Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life. It’s a place where even the walls whisper. And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess. Will she listen?”
According to the Goodreads Choice Awards, this is supposed to be a horror book, but it’s really not. I’m not really sure what genre it is, but all I know is that, for a lot of the time that I spent reading it, I was bored. I downloaded a sample at the same time as The Girl With All the Gifts and really enjoyed what I read, but when I downloaded the rest, I found it to be very difficult to get through, due to so many two-dimensional, unlikeable characters and a virtually non-existent storyline (at least in the first part of the book).
I started to become a bit more interested when Passmore confronted Jess, and realised that there was something supernatural going on (I had been unsure up until that point whether Alex was just a figment of Jessica’s imagination). However, the story dipped again in several places. Ultimately there were parts I enjoyed, and the ending definitely saved it. However, I wouldn’t really recommend it and found the representation of women distasteful. They were there either to be killed or fucked, and their personalities were interchangeable. After loving The Girl With all the Gifts so much, ‘disappointed’ doesn’t even cover it.
My Rating: 2.5 / 5
10. A Sincere Warning About the Entity in Your Home by Jason Arnopp.
Premise: “A Sincere Warning About The Entity in Your Home takes the form of an anonymous letter sent to YOUR address. It details the terrifying events which happened in your home and which continue to this day. You have inherited a curse and are being preyed upon by a bone-chilling apparition. This 10,000-word letter from the previous resident advises you how to cope, while detailing the unthinkable ordeal they suffered before you.”
Doesn’t that synopsis sound so, so trashy? Don’t be put off, though – this book was freaking scary. If you’re looking for a quick, fun read, definitely go for this. I started and finished it on my commute home, so it only took me about an hour to read, and I was engrossed the whole time. Then I came home to an empty flat and was creeped out for ages… I couldn’t look in the mirror in case my eyes changed to the blank, blue ones of the ghost…
Eeeeeek I’m getting chills again. WHY IS MY FLAT SO CREEPY?
I read The Last Days of Jack Sparks a few months ago by the same author and was very underwhelmed, so I’m not really certain why I even picked up this one, but I’m glad I did, even if I’m a bit scared of my own home now.
It wasn’t the fact that it’s set in the reader’s home that freaked me out, though – it was the thought of opening my eyes and seeing the ghost right next to my face. Aaaaaargh shit now I can’t cope with being alone in here…
My Rating: 4/5
11. Simon VS The Homo-Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli.
Premise: “Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.”
Everyone said this book was going to be amazing, and for once, the hype was understandable. I really enjoyed this book. It’s not gone straight into my favourites list, and I don’t think I’ll be re-reading all that regularly, but I had a really nice time reading it and I kept thinking about it while I was at work (whyyyyyy must I waste valuable reading time earning money, whyyyyyy?).
This was a cute love story with much-needed diverse characters. If you’re a YA fan, you definitely need to read it.
My Rating: 5/5
12. Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter.
Premise: “In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother’s sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness. In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow – antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This self-described sentimental bird is attracted to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him.”
I haven’t read poetry for absolutely ages and this was a really pleasant foray back into it. At first I was unsure, but as I got further through the book I came across some poems that I really enjoyed. It’s definitely inspired me to get back into reading poetry, and I really want to read the original Ted Hughes poems that this book is based on.
If you’re not into poetry, I think you still might like it because it’s almost like a cross between poetry and prose. There’s a clear narrative running through all of the book as well, and the poems are told from the points of view of different characters so it feels more like a novel than most poetry books do. It’s even quite funny in places.
My Rating: I haven’t read enough poetry to come up with a rating, so I am just going to put YES or NO for any books of poetry that I mention on here. In this case, my rating is YUP.