It’s Spooky Season once more and it’s time once again for the GeekMom Halloween Reading Roundup. As in previous years, this will be split into multiple parts, and this week we’ll be looking at YA books. Check out the last two week’s posts for Adult and Middle-Grade recommendations and stay tuned for the final post on Picture Books coming next Monday.
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The Haunting of Tyrese Walker by J.P. Rose
Tyrese Walker has been dragged away on a vacation he does not want to be a part of. Following the sudden death of his father, Ty’s school counselor has suggested that Ty and his mother visit his father’s family back in Jamaica and so that’s where he’s stuck, out in the middle of nowhere at his Grammy’s house with his exuberant cousin Marvin. For the whole summer. All Ty wants is to be back in his bedroom in Manchester, not dealing with his cousin talking a mile a minute at him in Patois (a language he doesn’t even know how to speak) trying to keep his anxiety and emotions at bay, and putting up with Grammy’s constant talk of duppies and other supernatural beings.
Doing his best to make the most of the situation, Ty begins to explore the countryside with Marvin and Ellie – a Texan girl their age also stuck in Jamaica while her emotionally distant father builds a tourist resort nearby. However, Ty is starting to see things. His father’s jacket hangs in a wardrobe despite being buried with him, his room catches on fire but no one else sees the smoke, and large black centipedes crawl out from the shadows. Ty and his new friends soon learn the legend of the Shadow Man, a local legend who takes away teenagers, and soon they realize that this particular legend is very real and he has chosen Ty to be his next victim. With the adults around them not able to help, Ty, Marvin, and Ellie must embark upon a race against time to find out the origins of the Shadow Man and prevent Ty from becoming the next name on a long list of missing teens.
Despite having one of the worst covers I’ve seen in a long time, I absolutely loved The Haunting of Tyrese Walker. The book did an amazing job of capturing the sensation of feeling lost and unmoored by extreme grief, and this is compounded by the confusion Ty and his friends feel at having to come to terms with the supernatural becoming real. Initially, Ty is unsure whether the things he sees are actually real, of supernatural origins, or simply hallucinations caused by his own grief. This adds to his distress, making him even more emotional and cutting him off from those around him.
The book introduces a whole world of Caribbean folklore from duppies (ghosts/spirits), to soucouyants (blood-sucking hags that appear as old ladies by day) and La Diablesse (a woman who sold her soul to the devil and became in demon in exchange for eternal youth and beauty). These are seamlessly mixed with the legend of the Shadow Man to the point that I had to look up which parts were real folklore and which were made up for the book. There are some genuinely scary moments here, although nothing got under my skin quite the way Ty’s memories of learning about his father’s death did.
The Haunting of Tyrese Walker is a brilliant book to read this Halloween season, especially for those looking to expand away from typical Western horror and explore the myths and legends of the Caribbean.
Horror Hotel by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren
In Horror Hotel by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren, a group of four teenage YouTubers heads to Los Angeles to spend the night in the city’s most haunted hotel. The book alternates between the perspectives of Chrissy, Chase, Emma, and Kiki as they investigate the hotel over one terror-filled night. The Hearst Hotel is internet famous: a young woman was found dead in its elevator shaft after blogging about the strange events that took place during her stay, a serial killer once lived on its upper floors using his room to commit multiple murders, and the whole place is filled with illegal activities of all kinds.
Chrissy, one of the self-titled Ghost Gang, is a psychic with the ability to see ghosts and spirits wherever she goes. When the group arrives, she immediately knows that the Hearst Hotel is nothing like any of the other places they have investigated on their channel. The whole building is alive with psychic shadows. Patterns move in the wallpaper, blood rains down inside the elevator, and everywhere she looks, she sees the echoes of death. However, an investigation of the hotel and its tragedies is probably going to push the channel over the coveted one million subscriber mark – the gateway to endorsements and sponsorship deals – and so Chrissy is willing to stick out the trip.
Soon into their investigation, the group manages to sneak their way inside the room that once belonged to Walter Ritter, a serial killer who murdered at least 16 sex workers while living in the hotel. The room is filled with more psychic energy than Chrissy has ever experienced, but that’s not the biggest problem the group has to contend with because lying on the floor of the room they shouldn’t be inside is the body of a housekeeper. After dismissing the sensible option of turning to the police, knowing their own investigation will be shut down and the woman’s death written off as just another drug-related crime at the Hearst, the teens decide to solve the crime themselves.
Staying in hostel-style accommodation within the hotel, the gang finds themselves sharing with Bram – a young tourist visiting from Australia. Bram and Chrissy strike up an instant rapport, much to the chagrin of Chase, and Chrissy is delighted to discover that Bram is also psychic, the first person she has ever met who can understand the unique challenges she faces. Meanwhile, the tension between Emma and Kiki is building. All the gang knows that out and proud tech geek Emma has a thing for Kiki, but Kiki is straight, at least, she’s always thought she is but is this really the time or place to be figuring that stuff out? With friction building between all four of the Ghost Gang because of their own relationship dramas and the stress of realizing that someone or something is out for blood in the hotel, soon their own rules are forgotten, most importantly the one about never going anywhere alone.
Horror Hotel was a book with a fantastic premise and an even more amazing cover. The Hearst Hotel was so well described it felt as if I was right there and the four characters were interesting and believable, even if some of their choices left a lot to be desired. The haunted hotel was brilliantly done and much of the book felt like an episode of Supernatural or Ghost Hunters as the teens crept around discovering ever more disturbing things. Chrissy’s chapters were always my favorites as she was the only one with the ability to actually see what was happening. Her descriptions of the ghostly visions she experienced were both terrifying and tragic.
Unfortunately, the whole thing collapsed entirely by the end. The book’s big murder mystery ended up having the most mediocre and boring resolution possible, countless plot threads were left dangling without any attempt to resolve them, and most of the most actually interesting parts of the story were ignored in favor of a simple conclusion. It’s difficult to talk much about the conclusion without revealing spoilers, but to say that it was disappointing was an understatement.
Since reading Horror Hotel, I also learned that the plot was almost a direct rip-off of the Netflix documentary Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. OPINION
Horror Hotel is a difficult book to give a final opinion on. I genuinely enjoyed reading it, found some parts to be scary enough to have me concerned about reading it too late at night, and connected with the characters. I also loved that it had an LGBTQ subplot and a fantastic atmosphere. Unfortunately, none of that can make up for the disappointment of its ending.
The Witchery by S. Isabelle
The small Florida town of Haelsford is cursed. Every November, Haunting Season begins and supernatural wolves rise from the swamp close to Mesmortes Coven Academy, targeting witches and mundanes alike and forcing them to work together despite the fear and prejudice that usually linger between the two. This year, four young witches from the school are determined to put a stop to it once and for all without ending up as the wolves’ next victims like everyone else who has tried before. This Haunting Season, the Mesmortes witches will take on responsibility for casting the protection spells for the first time and the girls have a plan.
Iris (a rare necromancer), Thalia (a talented greenwitch), and Jailah (devastatingly powerful with a thirst for power) are the Red Three and have just taken a new student – Logan, a baby witch struggling to harness her magic – under their wings. Meanwhile, Trent and Mathew, two boys from the nearby Hammersmitt School, are preparing to make their first sacrifice to the witches having discovered something strange and powerful in Mathew’s basement. As Haunting Season begins, all of them will have to work together if they want to protect their secrets and stop the wolves from killing again.
The Witchery had a lot of potential but struggled by trying to simply do too much, despite reaching nearly 400 pages. The book switches between six (SIX!) different characters’ points of view which makes it hard to follow because you’re constantly trying to remember what was going on the last time you were with that character. There were also vast amounts of backstories that never had the opportunity to be explored deeply or resolved. Thalia in particular had a personal history that was returned to several times, building up tension that something was going to happen, only for her story to somewhat peter out. Meanwhile, one of the supposed shock revelations near the end felt very predictable from early on.
I also found that the legend behind the Haunting Season was never fully explained. Even by the end of the book, I was unclear as to exactly why the curse had been enacted nor why the apparently all-important sacrifices were required. The magic system made little sense throughout, sometimes requiring wands and specific spells, other times not, and the connection between the two schools felt odd, changing as the author required.
This could have been a brilliant book if it had been reigned in a little and tightened up. Many of the characters were interesting and I wanted to know more about them (I would happily read a whole novel of Thalia’s story) but those people lost page space to others who felt unnecessary and a generally unwieldy plot. The ending felt like it was setting up for a sequel but I’m not sure that’s one I’ll be picking up. Still, give this one a go if you’re looking for witchy CW show vibes and strong POC representation.
Go Hunt Me by Kelly Devos
Alex Rush, a high school senior with dreams of entering film school, is thrilled to be given the opportunity to film her own short film on location at a remote castle in Romania – the very same one that supposedly inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula. However, as soon as she and her friends, who are also film buffs intent on careers in movie-making, arrive at the castle, it’s clear that things are not quite as they seem. The adults who are supposed to be chaperoning them are barely around, they have no signal or other connection to the outside world, and everything seems to be off in ways they can’t quite figure out, but unwilling to give up such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the group gets to work scouting locations and filming what they can.
Soon enough, the fake horror the group of friends is trying to create on-screen begins to bleed into real life. A strange, shadowy figure is spotted on the grounds and one of Alex’s friends goes missing. Gradually, each member of the group is picked off in increasingly bloodthirsty ways including Alex’s long-term boyfriend Jax and her BFF Reagan. An anonymous person has donated half a million dollars to the kids’ project fund and here are hints that the castle might have connections to an infamous criminal and ties back to Nazi Germany, but what is really going on at Castle Prahova, and who is telling the truth?
Go Hunt Me is told in an unusual way. The first chapter introduces the main character, Alex, in hospital after the events of the book and each subsequent chapter ends with notes from the criminal investigation that took place later on. These are primarily notes made by Inspector Ana Skutnik while interviewing Alex, who we know from the outset is the sole survivor of the group who went to the castle. As a result, the rest of the book is a recounting of the events as told to us and the police by Alex making for what should have been an interesting read.
Unfortunately, Go Hunt Me ended up being a big disappointment. The scenario to get the kids to Romania in the first place was painfully contrived, the characters never had enough personality to differentiate themselves, and the ending was disappointingly predictable. I spent most of the book hoping I was wrong about where it was going but ended up being right all along. It’s also worth noting that there are no vampires in this book despite what the cover might suggest. There are lots of questions about who or what is to blame for the events at Castle Prahova, but a suggestion that a real vampire is stalking the kids is never one of them.
Quite simply, this one wasn’t for me and if the Goodreads reviews are anything to go by, I’m not alone in this.
The Getaway by Lamar Giles
Jay is about to enter his senior year of high school and life seems to be going great. He lives with his parents in the staff community of Karloff Country – one of the world’s most popular resorts even bigger and better than Walt Disney World. There he has a steady job as a Helper in Enchantria (one of Karloff Country’s many theme parks), a promotion lined up, and a trio of close friends in Connie, Zeke, and Seychelle – the granddaughter of billionaire Franklin Karloff, the founder of the resort. Living inside the walls of Karloff Country also protects Jay from much of the horror taking place in the outside world as climate change drives people from their homes and food shortages become more and more commonplace.
One day, however, everything changes. Connie vanishes along with her entire family, all the non-Karloff controlled TV channels go dark along with the internet, and the sound of private jets entering the resort’s airstrip becomes non-stop. Soon, Jay and his friends realize that the owners of the resort have thrown out the tourists and opened it up only to the wealthiest 1% as a planned apocalypse rages outside, enslaving the resort’s staff and forcing them to be at the beck and call of the small number of “Trustees” who now call Karloff Country home and the resort’s Helpers their own personal staff.
Jay and his friends are determined to put an end to the Trustee’s reign of terror but who exactly is behind it?
The Getaway is a powerful book that tackles themes of race and class inequality in a dystopian world where the 1% have taken absolute control. It is reminiscent of Jordan Peele films like Get Out in the way it uses race to craft a very specific type of horror. The vast majority of the Trustees are white while the vast majority of Helpers are people of color, and it’s frightening how fast the Trustees take to their new roles as effective Gods of the resort. The book skips through time occasionally making the events a little harder to follow, but within a matter of weeks or months the Trustees have made the journey from ordinary but wealthy citizens to conducting full-blown lynchings when their authority is challenged, and this change is absolutely and terrifyingly believable.
Away from the horror, it amused me how much the author tried to make it clear that Karloff Country is NOT Walt Disney World (WDW actually exists in the book) despite it clearly being based on it, right down to very specific details such as the utilidors (underground corridors), a theme park with a central castle, and a hotel called the Grand Virginian (as opposed to the Grand Floridian and Grand Californian hotels at Walt Disney World and Disneyland respectively). You can practically hear “please don’t sue me” being muttered every time the parks are discussed in any detail!
I did have a few issues with The Getaway. First, there were multiple time jumps that impacted its flow, and even having finished it, I still wasn’t exactly sure who was behind each part of the various nefarious plots that ended up layered on top of one another. As the book progressed, it also became more and more graphically violent and soon reached a point where I began to doubt if it was even a YA, yet supposedly it is. If you don’t appreciate detailed descriptions of people’s skulls exploding, this might be a book to steer clear of.
The Getaway is an incredible story that will ensure you never look at a vacation resort in quite the same way again!
Read The Getaway: Amazon
- Halloween Reading Roundup 2018
- Halloween Reading Roundup 2019
- Halloween Reading Roundup 2020: Babies – Grade School, Middle Grade, YA & Adult Part One, YA & Adult Part Two
- Halloween Reading Roundup 2021: Picture Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult
GeekMom received copies of these books for review purposes.