Spooky Reads: Modern Monsters

When the first hint of autumn hits the air, my reading mind begins to crave the spooky, the eerie, and the downright scary. I love these kinds of stories anytime of the year, but books about witches, ghosts, haunted places, monsters, and monstrous people that chill as much as thrill are the books that dominate my reading list right to the end of October (and often beyond).

For the next few weeks, I will be sharing posts with lists of my favorite spooky books. Each list represents a different category and will be in alphabetical order by author. I’ll include the book’s description (or if it’s a series, the first book’s description), and link each to their entry on Goodreads.

Disclaimer: Spooky is sometimes easy to identify in the main aspects of a story, and then sometimes it’s just a feeling you get when reading. Your spooky and my spooky may not match up, but checking out a few new books is never a bad thing.

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♦ Modern Monsters ♦

Sometimes it doesn’t take the supernatural to creep you out because regular people are scary enough.

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Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

Type: young adult Status: standalone

Wake up, Caitlin

Ever since she started going out with Rogerson Biscoe, Caitlin seems to have fallen into a semiconscious dreamland where nothing is quite real. Rogerson is different from anyone Caitlin has ever known. He’s magnetic. He’s compelling.

He’s dangerous.

Being with him makes Caitlin forget about everything else–her missing sister, her withdrawn mother, her lackluster life. But what happens when being with Rogerson becomes a larger problem than being without him?

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Type: adult Status: standalone

WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims–a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

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Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

Type: adult Status: ongoing
Available Books: The Cuckoo’s Calling (#1), The Silkworm (#2), Career of Evil (#3), Lethal White (#4)

(Description for Book 1)

A brilliant mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel’s suicide.

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this.

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Killer Instinct series by S.E. Green

Type: young adult Status: unknown
Available Books: Killer Instinct (#1), Killer Within (#2)

(Description for Book 1)

She’s not evil, but she has certain… urges.

Lane is a typical teenager. Loving family. Good grades. Afterschool job at the local animal hospital. Martial arts enthusiast. But her secret obsession is studying serial killers. She understands them, knows what makes them tick.

Why?

Because she might be one herself.

Lane channels her dark impulses by hunting criminals—delivering justice when the law fails. The vigilantism stops shy of murder. But with each visceral rush the line of self-control blurs.
And then a young preschool teacher goes missing. Only to return… in parts.

When Lane excitedly gets involved in the hunt for “the Decapitator,” the vicious serial murderer that has come to her hometown, she gets dangerously caught up in a web of lies about her birth dad and her own dark past. And once the Decapitator contacts Lane directly, Lane knows she is no longer invisible or safe. Now she needs to use her unique talents to find the true killer’s identity before she—or someone she loves—becomes the next victim…

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Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King

Type: adult Status: standalone

For thirty years, folks on Little Tall Island have been waiting to find out just what happened on the eerie dark day Dolores Claiborne’s husband died — the day of the total eclipse. Now, the police want to know what happened yesterday when her rich, bedridden employer died suddenly in her care. With no choice but to talk, Dolores gives her compelling confession … of the strange and terrible links forged by hidden intimacies … of the fierceness of a mother’s love and its dreadful consequences … of the silent rage that can turn a woman’s heart to hate.

When Dolores Claiborne is accused of murder, it’s only the beginning of the bad news. For what comes after that is something only Stephen King could imagine … as he rips open the darkest secrets and the most damning sins of men and women in an ingrown Maine town and takes you on a trip below its straitlaced surface.

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Jasper Dent series by Barry Lyga

Type: young adult Status: completed series
Available Books: I Hunt Killers (#1), Game (#2), Blood of My Blood (#3), various short stories

(Description for Book 1)

What if the world’s worst serial killer…was your dad?

Jasper “Jazz” Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.

But he’s also the son of the world’s most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could—from the criminal’s point of view.

And now bodies are piling up in Lobo’s Nod.

In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret—could he be more like his father than anyone knows?

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The Lying Game series by Sara Shepard

Type: young adult Status: completed series
Available Books: The Lying Game (#1), Never Have I Ever (#2), Two Truths and a Lie (#3), Hide and Seek (#4), Cross My Heart, Hope to Die (#5), Seven Minutes in Heaven (#6), two short stories

(Description for Book 1)

I had a life anyone would kill for.

Then someone did.

The worst part of being dead is that there’s nothing left to live for. No more kisses. No more secrets. No more gossip. It’s enough to kill a girl all over again. But I’m about to get something no one else does–an encore performance, thanks to Emma, the long-lost twin sister I never even got to meet.

Now Emma’s desperate to know what happened to me. And the only way to figure it out is to be me–to slip into my old life and piece it all together. But can she laugh at inside jokes with my best friends? Convince my boyfriend she’s the girl he fell in love with? Pretend to be a happy, care-free daughter when she hugs my parents goodnight? And can she keep up the charade, even after she realizes my murderer is watching her every move?

From Sara Shepard, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Pretty Little Liars books, comes a riveting new series about secrets, lies, and killer consequences.

Let the lying game begin.

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Sadie by Courtney Summers

Type: young adult Status: standalone

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

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Prep School Confidential series by Kara Taylor (a.k.a. Kara Thomas)

Type: young adult Status: completed series
Available Books: Prep School Confidential (#1), Wicked Little Secrets (#2), Deadly Little Sins (#3)

(Description for Book 1)

In this breathtaking debut that reads like Gossip Girl crossed with Twin Peaks, a Queen Bee at a blue-blooded New England prep school stumbles into a murder mystery.

Anne Dowling practically runs her exclusive academy on New York’s Upper East Side—that is, until she accidentally burns part of it down and gets sent to a prestigious boarding school outside of Boston. Determined to make it back to New York, Anne couldn’t care less about making friends at the preppy Wheatley School. That is, until her roommate Isabella’s body is found in the woods behind the school.

When everyone else is oddly silent, Anne becomes determined to uncover the truth no matter how many rules she has to break to do it. With the help of Isabella’s twin brother Anthony, and a cute classmate named Brent, Anne discovers that Isabella wasn’t quite the innocent nerdy girl she pretended to be. But someone will do anything to stop Anne’s snooping in this fast-paced, unputdownable read—even if it means framing her for Isabella’s murder.

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Type: adult Status: standalone

From New York Times bestselling author of the “twisty-mystery” (Vulture) novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, comes The Woman in Cabin 10, an equally suspenseful and haunting novel from Ruth Ware—this time, set at sea.

In this tightly wound, enthralling story reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s works, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

With surprising twists, spine-tingling turns, and a setting that proves as uncomfortably claustrophobic as it is eerily beautiful, Ruth Ware offers up another taut and intense read in The Woman in Cabin 10—one that will leave even the most sure-footed reader restlessly uneasy long after the last page is turned.

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Six Sad Childhood Books

Recently BuzzFeed published this listicle: 16 Books You Read As A Kid That Were Actual Emotional Torture.

I read the list. Exactly zero books listed match the sad books from my childhood.

Of the sixteen books, three I’ve read as an adult, six I’m aware of but have not read, and seven I’ve never heard of prior to this list. Some of these books weren’t even out when I was kid.

I’m not sure who comprises the BuzzFeed community that submitted those titles, but I’m going to guess millennials. I’m technically a millennial, but an old one, so I decided to share the six saddest books from my (very ’90s) childhood. I know some are still around and read, but I hope I’m not the only one that remembers the others.

Oh yeah, spoilers incoming.

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The Gold Cadillac by Mildred D. Taylor

Reading this book was the first time I learned about and understood racism and injustice. Seeing the family in the book be treated so terribly for being black and driving a fancy car made me so sad and angry as a seven-year-old and I’ve never forgotten it.

 

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A Dog Called Kitty by Bill Wallace

At some point we all read a book or see a movie where the dog dies. This point for me was first or second grade. I remember being really happy that the main character went from being mean to dogs to a dog-lover, but then the dog, Kitty, dies, because elementary school kids need more reasons to cry.

 

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The Christmas Spurs by Bill Wallace

Bill Wallace really had it out for me as a kid. That, or he really thought kids should learn about death and how to deal with it. I don’t remember the exact specifics of the plot, just that there were two brothers, a pair of spurs, and that the younger brother dies from cancer. It has some kind of little twist that made the ending bittersweet.

 

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On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

This book was read to my class during library time by the librarian in fifth or sixth grade. I hated it. And then, when it got to the crux of the story, that one of the two main boys actually dies because they were being silly kids, I hated it even more. Then you have to actually be there when the surviving boy tries, and fails, to tell the other boy’s parents what happened. It’s The Worst.

 

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Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

My sixth grade reading teacher was a Lowry fan, so we read two of her books that year. This was my first Lowry book and the first time I’d read anything about the Holocaust. The oppression and terror the characters experienced was awful, but at least this story didn’t end too terribly (leaving everything to escape to a different country because your people are being kidnapped and killed is pretty happy, right?).

 

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The Giver by Lois Lowry

This short, simple book is full of terrible things. Infanticide, senicide, forced birth, forced suppression of biologic functions, and a complete and total lack of individualism make up the main character’s world. He doesn’t realize these things are terrible (or even happening) until he meets The Giver and receives the memories of the past before everything changed, and some of those memories are terrible and painful. Then the little kid narrator has to leave everyone and everything he knows to save a baby and escape his controlled existence, only to end the book near death in the snow. Talk about emotional.

 

These books taught me things, the main lesson being I prefer books where the overwhelming feeling at the end isn’t sadness. I’ll still read a sad book from time to time, but they are harder for me to start than most others. Is it because of these early forays into sadness or because currently, the world is sad enough as it is?

I’m going to go with both. Both is good.

What books would make your saddest childhood books list?

 

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I am Kafka’s Bug

James Sutton via Unsplash

I read a lot of books.

In general, I like most of them, and sometimes they even affect me emotionally, though the latter is rare. I can usually tell when a book will make me emotional or cry because I tend to have specific triggers relating to my personal history.

But recently I was surprised. I got emotional about a book that I had no idea would resonate with me so deeply.

On a whim, I had decided to read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. I was in the mood for something short and had access to a copy, so I read it. It’s a classic that I knew little about — a man turns into a bug? — and I knew even less about the author. I had heard lots of things in culture be referred to as ‘Kafkaesque’, meaning they replicated his absurdist style.

But I found The Metamorphosis to be hardly absurd.

Sure, I get why people say that. A guy, Gregor Samsa, wakes up to find that he has transformed into a bug of some kind (though the fact of what Gregor turned in to, and if he did indeed turn into anything, is hotly debated) and the how and why of the event are never explained. That’s all pretty strange.

But despite Gregor’s new bug persona, the feelings, emotions, and tragedy of the story are all human. So human, in fact, I found myself thinking that Kafka had reached into the future, seen the inside of my mind, and used it as a blueprint for Gregor’s struggles.

Absurd? Absolutely. But I related so strongly to what Gregor was feeling, my chest was heavy with the connection. It completely changed my mood and my day.

Because the narrative is so layered, I can see how one could get many different meanings from the text. The book has obviously meant something to many, many people over the years, given how thoroughly it has been discussed and dissected.

But to explain what I got out of it, I’ll have to get into some of the things that happen in the story, so spoilers ahead.

After Gregor realizes what he has become, his family finds out (he lives with his parents and his sister). His parents soundly reject their son, but his sister feeds him and looks in on him and cleans up his room. There are a few occasions where Gregor is beaten or attacked by someone in the house and he is injured and does not really heal from these wounds.

Gregor is trapped in his bedroom and because of his size and the unfamiliarity with his new body, and later, his injuries, he has trouble moving around the space. He can understand his family, but they cannot understand him.

His mother comes around at some point and starts helping his sister take care of him, and they start leaving the bedroom door open for him in the evening so he can see the family at dinner. Through this open door Gregor sees the life he once had, the life that he can no longer participate in.

Because the family now lacks Gregor’s income, the other three reduce their use of paid servants and take jobs. They struggle to support themselves and wish to move to a smaller place, but cannot due to Gregor’s condition. After months of this strained living, they rent some of their space to three men and hide Gregor from them.

In addition to having strangers in the house, Gregor is also more isolated because his sister and mother are so busy all the time that they no longer take care of him like they used to. His room gets dirty and they don’t notice when he stops eating. His sister, in particular, seems to grow bitter at the anchor Gregor has become on her life.

These feelings of being trapped, of not being loved, of worthlessness, of depression and hopelessness, are all things I’ve experienced. My life is difficult in ways that I did not choose and I cannot escape, and I do what I can to make the best out of what I’ve got. But beyond relating to these feelings that Gregor, and to some extent, his family, experience, there were two other aspects that struck me.

The first is that there was no rhyme or reason as to why this happened to Gregor. He didn’t do anything to cause this; it just happened.

I struggle with those bad things in life, minor and major, that just seem to happen, especially when no good comes of them. Sometimes there is not a lesson to be learned or a brighter spot made from dealing with the darkness. Sometimes things just happen to people and they have to deal with them. It’s not fair or just or right, but there’s nothing that can be done about it. I felt this so strongly with Gregor’s situation; he could not stop his transformation or change his situation and it made for a sad and tragic story.

The second aspect of this story that was so moving to me was that there are no villains. Everyone in the story is an imperfect person. Parents reject their son, the sister neglects her brother, Gregor goes a little mad and envisions imprisoning his sister in his room so she can play him the violin forever. But even at their worst, none of these characters are villains or even bad people. They are simply dealing with a difficult situation the best they can.

Gregor wanted certain things to alleviate his great suffering, even understanding they were not good things to want but feeling that getting these things was the only way for him to retain his humanity. His family denied him certain things, not out of malice, but because they didn’t know, and couldn’t know, if he had any humanity left within him.

They all tried their best to handle the crisis. Unfortunately, they all failed. But seeing that they were given an impossible situation to begin with, it is hard to fault them.

My situation may not be as completely impossible as Gregor’s and his family’s, but sometimes it feels that way. Reading Kafka’s words felt like him giving me a nod of recognition and a shrug that simply says, “Well, you may be failing, but who can blame you? At least you’re trying.”

I have kept myself intentionally ignorant of the many examinations of this story until I could write this, so I’m not sure what Kafka intended or what others believe he intended when he wrote The Metamorphosis. Whatever the purpose of the story, the experience of reading this, of having my darkest self feel seen and not judged, is invaluable.

Even if I am just a bug.

 

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Photo Credit: © 2017 James Sutton via Unsplash