As expected, toward Halloween I started to pick up a lot more books that would fit a spooky theme, although I have to say I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to nearly half the books that I wanted to read in October! I have no idea why my reading felt so slow that month. I ended up making myself a bit of an “extended Halloween” TBR, where I read several of the books that I’d been intentionally saving for October during the first week or so of November instead, so at least I still read many of them in the end. October was also the month where I was back to work full-time in person for the first time all year, after doing shortened days through the summer. Given the way case counts are currently going, I would not be surprised at all if we end up closing down again in the next couple of months. I guess the plus-side of that would be a little extra reading time again, but I’d much rather be going to work! Toward the end of October, I ended up reading quite a few Halloween-ish books that focused on very similar storylines, making it easy to group them together for a Recent Reads!
One of the main “themes” that I found myself reaching for in October were ghost stories, where it was a little ambiguous whether there was a real haunting or if it was all in the characters’ head. As someone who studied psychology, I find that kind of story concept fascinating. The first book I read, or more accurately, listened to, along these lines was The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Full disclosure: This book has never really been on my radar, mostly because I assumed it would be too scary for me. However, I’d loved We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and I wanted a Halloween-themed audiobook to listen to while I was doing some work at home, so this one seemed like a good choice. For those who aren’t so familiar with the story, it is about a woman named Eleanor who is invited to stay at Hill House as part of a group assisting with an investigation to prove whether it is haunted. I liked the book overall but was surprised to find it a lot less scary than I expected, although I did love the way many of the unusual things happening in the house were described. I especially enjoyed the ending and how the book in general left such ambiguity about what was really happening. I’m not sure if it was just because it was an audiobook, and I generally tend to be less engaged with those, or if it’s because it’s an older book, but I didn’t feel very strongly connected to it. I enjoyed it while I was listening and I’m glad I gave it a chance, but I’m not sure it will be particularly memorable for me.
The next book I picked up that was along these lines was Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, which has been on my TBR for a very long time! This one is about a young woman named Merry, who grew up in a household with an older sister, Marjorie, who seemed to be displaying signs of schizophrenia. When the doctors are unable to help her, Merry’s parents turn to a priest who recommends an exorcism, and the family also agrees to take part in a reality show to document their experience. I found the entire premise of the book so fascinating and I loved the way it played on the uncertainty of whether Marjorie was due to demonic possession or mental illness. Marjorie’s behaviour was genuinely so creepy although there were a couple of moments that I also found disgusting and hard to read (which apparently were a reference to The Exorcist, which I never read or watched). I thought it was so interesting to see Merry’s perspective of the events as a child, and how she processed her sister’s behaviour, and loved the twists toward the end although some of them were not the most believable. I really enjoyed this one too, although again, it was not quite as much as I had expected given how long I’d been waiting to try it.
The last, and most exciting, book that I read that fit this theme was Home Before Dark by Riley Sager! This was a book I’d been dying to read all year but purposely wanted to pick up very close to Halloween, except it was hard to get it for an affordable price so I didn’t think I’d get it in time. Luckily for me, Amazon had it on sale toward the beginning of October, and I was so excited to get it in time. Along the same lines as the two books above, this one focuses on a woman named Maggie who spent a few weeks in a house with her family before the three of them fled from it at night. Her father went on to publish a bestselling book about their experiences claiming that the house was haunted, although Maggie has never believed it. Upon her father’s death, Maggie inherits the house and sets out to discover the truth while she renovates it to put it back up for sale. I loved the way the author alternated between Maggie’s investigations in the present and chapters directly from her father’s book, and it was especially interesting to see the points where the two stories overlapped. I thought it was a great choice to use the chapters from the book to show what happened in the past without having to rely on flashbacks from Maggie herself, especially since she was not supposed to have any memory of what happened. I loved how the author built such a creepy atmosphere throughout both sides of the story, and was surprised by how much I loved the scary elements and how they were explained by both characters. I also really enjoyed all the twists, especially the fast-paced ending and the ultimate explanations offered for what really happened. This was easily one of my favourite books of the year.