October 2021 reading wrap-up

October arrived, so naturally I read cozy mysteries, romances, and historical fiction all month long to celebrate!

Just kidding! This month, I read the highest concentration of horror and spooky books than I ever have in my life. I enjoyed quite a few, hated some, and found a brand new favorite among the bunch.

This month I also crossed the 100 books read for 2021 mark, with The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein taking the honors of book 100.

All of that is to say that I kind of burned myself out. I don’t know what November will look like, aside from some catching up on a few literary novels that were released this year and some sci-fi/fantasy doorstops. Until then, here were my favorite books from the month of October.

Best of the month

“That is not what you want, that is what you need. You are not made out of needs, you are made out of your dreams and desires.”

From Slewfoot by Brom

Slewfoot / Brom

When I started this month, I knew I wanted to read something witchy. I had struck out with The Ex Hex, an unbelievably dull witch romance, but found some autumnal fun with Cackle (see below.) However, my desire for a dark and scary witch novel had not been satisfied, so I picked up Slewfoot on a whim late in the month.

Slewfoot tells the story of Abitha, a woman living in a Puritan colony in New England, and her descent into darkness. This novel surprised me in the best way, with a captivating narrative and amazing atmosphere. It did a wonderful job of describing the Puritan belief system and the way it traps women into a life of subservience, and how straying from the path can cause a lot of problems for the women in these situations.

Most of all though, this was the high-powered witch horror novel I had been craving. Some will find the early parts challenging, as the plot burns slowly before igniting in the last quarter of the novel. When it does flare up, it burns brightly and provides one of my favorite endings to a horror novel in a long time. Spooky season may be over, but this one is destined to be a seasonal classic for years to come.

Other highlights

Chasing the Boogeyman / Richard Chizmar

Nostalgia and Halloween go hand-in-hand for many people, myself included. Chasing the Boogeyman is Richard Chizmar’s exploration of childhood nostalgia by way of a fictional true crime story, an inventive format that left me at times forgetting it was fiction. Chronicling the exploits of a (again, I emphasize fictional) serial killer in a small Maryland town, Chizmar uses this setup to pen a love letter to his youth, blending memoir with fiction (and some shots of horror) into an immersive tale. The book comes complete with crime scene photographs and decades later afterward that really completes the novel’s true-crime drag.

Cackle / Rachel Harrison

All that I really wanted this month was some witchcraft, and I struck out in a big way with my first witch-related book (see the reference to The Ex Hex above, a wretched romance). Luckily, Cackle by Rachel Harrison stepped up to the plate to deliver the fun I wanted. After a difficult breakup, Annie moves to a small town in upstate New York and immediately strikes up a friendship with Sophie, a beguiling woman whose whole vibe just screams “witch.” Cackle is a story about gaining your independence and inner strength, and it’s also just a ton of fun. While this book certainly won’t be winning a Pulitzer, Harrison has created a great, nuanced central character in Annie and I enjoyed this ride.

As Good as Dead / Holly Jackson

I haven’t had the opportunity to praise one of the more enjoyable Young Adult series I’ve read in recent years, so it feels right for the final book to get highlighted. YA thrillers tend to be pretty bad across the board, with predictable plots, unrealistic situations, and “teenage” characters acting more like 20-year veteran detectives. Holly Jackson’s series was so refreshing in all the ways it subverted the YA thriller playbook. Everything in these books feels organic and true-to-life, and most importantly the characters are realistic in ways that aren’t always convenient. This series holds a place in my heart, and even if the ending was somewhat frustrating, it felt true.

Complete list of october reads

  • The Bronzed Beasts by Roshani Chokshi
  • As Good as Dead by Holly Jackson
  • The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark
  • The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
  • The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling
  • Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar
  • Horseman by Christina Henry
  • Cackle by Rachel Harrison
  • Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Kassondra Khaw
  • The Croning by Laird Barron
  • Slewfoot by Brom
  • The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

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