In this collection of Halloween reads there’s something for kids, teens, and adults, whether you prefer your October filled with silliness, spooks, or full-on scares. I’ve had a lot of fun reading these books (and spooked myself by reading some of them alone at night, too) so I hope you find something to read during the spookiest time of year regardless of your fright factor.
Edison Beaker, Creature Seeker: The Night Door by Frank Cammuso
Suggested Age: Middle Grade
The first of my 2018 Halloween reads was one I shared with my nine-year-old son. Edison Beaker, Creature Seeker: The Night Door is the first in a new series of graphic novels from Frank Cammuso, author of Knights of the Lunch Table and others. This new novel follows young Edison Beaker, his little sister Tesla, and her troublesome hamster Scuttlebutt as they voyage into the realm of Underwhere and learn that the family business may be a little different than they had always believed.
In a prologue, we learn that Edison’s father disappeared one evening after reassuring Edison that there were no monsters in his room by using his special flashlight. Fast forwarding to now, Edison and his sister are sent to stay with their Uncle Earl when their mother has to go away (why is it always the uncles in these stories?). Earl tells them a story about The Night Door, a door that connects our world to the realm of monsters, but when an earthquake knocks out the power and sends Earl out on a service call, Edison and Tesla soon find that their Uncle’s story is more fact than fiction.
This was a really fun book. The characters were compelling and well designed, as were the creatures of the Underwhere and their mysterious leader Baron Umbra whom I wanted to draw in my sketchbook as soon as I first laid eyes on him, his character design is simply that eye-catching. This is a perfect book for fans of Gravity Falls and Scooby Doo with the story striking the same balance of funny and spooky elements perfectly – we’re already excited to read the next book in the series and see if we can learn more about what happened to Edison’s father.
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
Suggested Age: Middle Grade
The second of my Halloween reads was City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab. Cassidy Blake is a 12-year-old girl whose parents are known as The Inspectres – a duo who write a series of popular books about the paranormal with her mother telling the legends and her father grounding the tales in solid historical fact. What they don’t know is that their daughter, who had a near-death experience one year ago, can actually see the ghosts they spend their lives hunting. Ever since she briefly drowned, Cassidy can pull back the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead and cross between them, along with her best friend Jacob who saved her life and who also happens to be a ghost.
When her parents decide to turn The Inspectres into a TV show, they bundle the whole family (including their petulant cat, Grim) off to Edinburgh to film the first episode. Here, Cassidy meets Lara, a plot device masquerading as a mixed-race girl staying in the same building. Lara can also cross the Veil and begrudgingly begins teaching Cassidy about their abilities, and duties as Inbetweeners – people who can help ghosts move on. At the same time, Cassidy learns of The Raven in Red, an extremely powerful and dangerous ghost determined to steal back a life of her own. Naturally, Cassidy crosses paths with the Raven, which pits the pair against one another in a race to claim Cassidy’s very life for their own.
I really liked this book, which I listened to via Audible. Cassidy is generally well written and interesting, plus it was refreshing to meet a young character like her who doesn’t come with dead-parent baggage like so many do – although her parents seem remarkably blasé about leaving their young daughter alone in a foreign city. I do wish we had learned more about Jacob’s origins, although that is hopefully something that will be addressed in future books (City of Ghosts is the first in a series), and Lara seemed to exist purely to further Cassidy’s story, which was annoying but, again, hopefully redeemable later on. The narration by Reba Buhr started out a little too peppy and fast for this style of book but it settled down eventually and became more enjoyable as the book went along.
While the story here was fairly predictable, City of Ghosts is written with enough atmosphere and detail to make up for it. I’m already looking forward to reading the next book in this series and learning more about Cassidy and Jacob.
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: Zero’s Journey, Book 1 by D.J. Milky
Suggested Age: Middle Grade
Released to coincide with both the Halloween and Christmas seasons is Tokyopop’s graphic novel sequel to The Nightmare Before Christmas – Zero’s Journey by D.J. Milky. This middle-grade volume is book one of what will be a four-book series collecting 20 issues of the comic book series.
Set shortly after the movie, Jack is preoccupied with creating a portal to allow him to travel to any of the Holiday Worlds and is ignoring Zero in the process. After being guilt-tripped by his ghostly hound, the two play a game of fetch that results in an accident and Zero being transported off to the woods, where he quickly finds himself stuck in Christmas Town. Soon, Zero is floating around the town, getting up to mischief and making new friends; meanwhile, Jack is frantic with worry about his missing best friend and recruits Lock, Shock, and Barrel to retrieve him while he is stuck in a vital town meeting. What could go wrong?
Although it’s always difficult to review a partial story such as this, Zero’s Journey is already a fun story and it has a lot of potential to get even better. The look and feel of the artwork is in keeping with the original movie, and I loved the way it shifts in tone and brightness between the Christmas Town and Halloween Town scenes. Zero is utterly adorable (as always), the new characters fit perfectly into the NBC world (I already love Howly the owl), and the story even occasionally shifts into a rhyming structure reminiscent of the musical portions of the movie.
This book would be great in a list of Halloween reads or Christmas reads and would make an excellent transition between the two holidays. I’m already looking forward to book two.
Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
Suggested Age: Mature Middle Grade – Young Adult
I read Katherine Arden’s award-winning The Bear and the Nightingale earlier this year and loved it, so when I learned that she has also written a middle-grade ghost story I hoped it would be just as good and immediately added it to my list of Halloween reads. I wasn’t disappointed.
Small Spaces is about an eleven-year-old bookworm named Ollie who is living with depression and grief after the loss of her mother. All Ollie wants to do is hide away and read instead of dealing with school and other kids, so when she goes down to read at the creek after school and finds a seemingly mad woman about to throw a book away into the water, she snatches it and takes it home. In its pages, she finds a 100-year-old memoir written by a woman whose husband and brother-in-law made a deal with The Smiling Man and vanished from their farm. On a school trip to a local farm the very next day, Ollie discovers more and more similarities between the book and the farm, and she begins to wonder if she and her classmates might become the next chapter.
This is an amazingly atmospheric book. Katherine Arden paints the ominous landscape of Misty Valley Farm so perfectly that you can imagine yourself there, and The Smiling Man and his legion of followers are creepy enough to haunt your thoughts for weeks after reading – and make you suspicious of any scarecrows you might see. I did find myself wishing for a few more details, however. What was the bargain surrounding the first class of children who disappeared and what really happened to Caleb when he vanished? I also hope we one day get a sequel, perhaps when Ollie has grown up, as the ending suggests there is much more to come from these characters.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
Suggested Age: Young Adult
The next of my Halloween reads was Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson, which can be best described as Mean Girls meets Warm Bodies. It is told from the perspective of Mila Flores, a 16-year-old high school junior who is reeling from the death of her best friend Riley, just days after two of the most popular girls in school died in an apparent suicide pact. The adults in her town all believe Riley also committed suicide, but Mila knows her best friend would never have drowned herself, and what are the odds of three suicides in one week? Surely there is a serial killer at large.
As it happens, Mila and Riley were both practicing Wiccans, and, although they’ve never made any real magic happen before, the mysterious arrival of a new grimoire containing a Lazarus spell gives Mila an idea: she’ll resurrect Riley and discover the identity of her killer. Only, as you’ve probably guessed, things don’t go to plan, and Mila ends up resurrecting all three girls – none of whom have any memory of their deaths, nor can they be more than 100 steps away from Mila without reverting to decaying corpse form. With just seven days before the girls return to their graves, Mila must uncover their killer (if there ever was one), avoid angering her worried parents, and come to terms with her blossoming feelings for Riley’s cool older brother.
I loved this book. OK, so it’s unlikely to be remembered as one of the classic literary masterpieces of the century, but it’s just so much fun! Admittedly, the girls are a little too OK with finding out they’re dead and dying again in just a few days time (I think I’d have much bigger issues on learning that) but the snark is laugh out loud funny in places, and there were plenty of plot twists I didn’t see coming. It was refreshing to have a Latinx, plus-size heroine too, and one who was happy with both of those things. I was worried how Mila could ever have a happy ending without the story becoming overly contrived, but I was very happy with the outcome for her, though she really needs to get some high-quality therapy because can we say PTSD?!
A fun, easy read for teens and more mature middle graders (there’s some fruity language and sex discussions to be found) this Halloween.
Slender Man by Anonymous
Suggested Age – Young Adult
This was my first time reading anything to do with Slender Man, and I ended up enjoying this book so much I read the entire thing in one sitting on a stormy October day – pretty much the ideal conditions for Halloween reads. Slender Man isn’t a traditional novel but is instead a collection of cuttings, conversations, and other snippets that add up to tell a story that combines the Slender Man myth with a Riverdale-esque upper middle-class Manhattan high school.
Matthew Barker is a student at Riley, a high school filled with the children of celebrities and the high-powered Manhattan elite. One of his closest friends is Lauren, a popular girl in his year who walks out of her apartment building at 3:14am and vanishes. As the investigation into her disappearance continues, Matthew has increasingly terrifying dreams and strange events begin happening around him, eventually convincing him that Slender Man has taken Lauren and is taunting Matt to enter the darkness and rescue her.
What I really loved about this book was the format it took. Mixing Reddit posts and comment threads, audio recording transcripts, text message conversations, police interview transcripts, and much more brought the story to life in an unnervingly believable and up-to-date way. I often find that when authors insert current trends and technologies into their stories – such as WhatsApp or Instagram – their inclusion feels forced as if the author is trying to prove how current their story is. However, by using those devices as the very format of the story, they work perfectly to create the kind of horror story that could only exist in 2018 but which will remain under your skin for much longer.
The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart
Suggested Age – Young Adult
By far the scariest and goriest of my 2018 Halloween reads, The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart was the only one of the bunch I felt uncomfortable reading at night. In 1982, five friends discover an ancient stone box in the woods. They each place a sacrifice inside it and make a vow, the words of which came to one of them as if in a dream:
Never come to the box alone.
Never open it after dark.
Never take back your sacrifice.
Four years later, mysterious events begin to occur to the five teens and they discover both that someone returned to the box alone to recover their sacrifice, and that they weren’t the first group of friends to place items inside it. As the box’s anger grows, so does the terror of the events befalling them and soon the whole town is caught up in the box’s bloodthirst. The teens must discover how to satisfy the Sacrifice Box before it’s too late.
Another book I really enjoyed, The Sacrifice Box felt similar to Stephen King with its mix of tension building and surprisingly graphic horror, and although rated for teens, I would recommend it only for those comfortable with such. Another warning I would add is for anyone who has recently lost a pet. I read the book within a week of losing a beloved cat and occasionally found myself wishing I hadn’t because attacks by zombified animals (including recently euthanized pets) form a key part of the plot. This is a fantastic Halloween tale, but definitely one that leans heavily toward scares instead of spooks.
Halloween Murder by Leslie Meier
Suggested Age – Adult
There had to be one dud in this Halloween reads collection, and unfortunately, this was it. Halloween Murder by Leslie Meier combines two previously released Lucy Stone series books into one collection and really wasn’t my thing at all.
The first of the pair is Trick or Treat Murder which was originally published in 1996. The town of Tinker’s Cove, Maine, is preparing for Halloween but there’s an arsonist on the loose burning down many of the town’s beautiful historic buildings, and the latest attack has led to a death. Housewife and budding sleuth Lucy Stone decides to investigate between nursing her newborn baby and whipping up cupcakes for the big Halloween party but, naturally, she finds her own life is under threat when she gets too close to the truth.
The instantly forgettable plot (I finished the book last night and am struggling to remember enough for this review) would almost be forgivable if the writing was good, but instead, the book is filled with dull small talk, pointless filler – almost two pages are devoted to Lucy listing off her various bills as she writes cheques to pay them – and endless references to breastfeeding that add nothing to the plot. Sadly, all this story did for me was to remind me why I never read Cozy Mysteries!
Story number two is Wicked Witch Murder, which was originally published in 2010. It’s immediately obvious that Meier has improved over 14 years of writing, with this story flowing far better than the previous one. Lucy and her family have grown up, with her eldest child (aged 11 in Trick or Treat Murder) now married with his own baby son, and Lucy working as a reporter for the town paper when she discovers a body that has been horrifically burned and tied to a tree in the woods.
New to town are Diana Ravenscroft, a self-proclaimed witch who runs an occult supplies store and a prominent member of the local Wiccan coven, and Ike Stoughton, a devout Christian who runs his home like his kingdom and condemns Diana and everything about her as the work of the devil. Soon, the two are at odds with Ike accusing Diana of causing everything wrong in town, from a devastating flood to his failed pumpkin crop, and whipping up increasingly violent support from his worried neighbors. As Lucy investigates the body in the woods, she discovers that both Ike and Diana are linked to the dead man and she has to decide who to trust, and whether or not to believe in magic.
I enjoyed this second Lucy Stone story much more. Gone is much of the endless drivel, replaced by a much neater and better-flowing story that had me drawn in by the end. The ending was fairly predictable, but that is to be expected from the genre, and while I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who isn’t a fan of Cozy Mysteries, the second story in this volume was a nice enough read for anyone looking for a non-scary Halloween tale.
If you liked the sound of any books in this selection, then why not consider gifting one or more as part of Neil Gaiman’s All Hallow’s Read program, which encourages people to send others a scary book for Halloween.
GeekMom received the books in this selection for review purposes.