Top 5 Books to Read this Halloween, and the Candy to Devour While Doing So with Christa Carmen

Join me as I count down the top five books to delve into this Samhain season—eerie books, icky books, creepy books, and catastrophic books—having rated them using the following:

Sugar & Spook Meter:

🍬 Halloween hijinks abound

🍬 Grimness and / or gore are proliferated throughout

🍬 Book prompted the need to turn off porch light & eschew trick-or-treaters

🍬 Candy consumption combined with pressured page-turning had the reader’s bag of sweets vanishing quicker than a specter at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 1st

🍬 Subsequent sugar rush and state of terror left the reader as dazed as the final girl of their favorite slasher flick

Be warned…like devil worship, creepy children, urban legends, and long-loved monsters, spoilers may appear, and the views expressed within this post, including subjective analyses of the books (which were all published in 2018), the explorations of the themes within, and the choices of candy to pair with them, are my own.

 


 

Runners-up:
Cross Her Heart, Sarah Pinborough (because Pinborough is unparalleled when it comes to penning an unexpected terrifying twist)
Unbury Carol, Josh Malerman (because a climax that takes place in a graveyard is perfectly appropriate for Halloween)
Night of 1,000 Beasts, John Palisano (because what better way to appreciate the one night of the year when the door between the living and the dead breaks down with a book about the one night of the century on which the earth’s beasts roam unchecked, looking to settle the score?)
Doorbells at Dusk: Halloween Stories, edited by Evans Light (because of Amber Fallon’s simple but eerily effective “The Day of the Dead,” among other chilling tales)
The Last Time I Lied, Riley Sager (because Camp Nightingale has more in common with Camp Crystal Lake than canoeing and campfire songs)

crossherheart unburycarol nightof doorbellsatdusk thelasttime

 

5) We Sold Our Souls, Grady Hendrix

If you’ve had the privilege of meeting Grady Hendrix (I attended a Horror Writing Lock-In event hosted by Grady at the Westport Library in Connecticut a few months back), than you know that the candy to pair with the works of this Bram Stoker Award-winning author has to be sweet to the point of cavity-inducing; that it has to be sugary to where you are vibrating with energy and manic motivation. This is the only way to properly experience the man behind Paperbacks from Hell, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and Horrorstör, and with Hendrix’s latest installment, We Sold Our Souls, those SweeTarts, Nerds, and LaffyTaffies are just the fuel you’ll need if you’re going to triumph over Terry Hunt and his devilishly successful band, Koffin, along with Terry’s former guitarist, Kris Pulaski.

wesold sweet1

Pick up a Wonka Mixup bag of treats and settle in for your gnarly journey across Hendrix’s metal-centric United States, from Pennsylvania’s rust belt to the hellish heat of the Las Vegas desert. Resign yourself to murder, music, and mayhem as you mourn Kris’ original band, Dürt Würk, and relish your mission to save metal fans’ souls from being devoured by those creatures dispensed by Black Iron Mountain. Will Kris overthrow Terry Hunt from his reign of terror, or will she be doomed to the same fate as her bandmates? Suck out the souls from the bodies of innumerable Sour Patch Kids while you blaze through Hendrix’s novel to find out.

Sugar & Spook Meter:

🍬 Halloween hijinks abound: 0
🍬 
Grimness and / or gore are proliferated throughout: 8
🍬 
Book prompted the need to turn off porch light & eschew trick-or-treaters: 3
🍬 
Candy consumption combined with pressured page-turning had the reader’s bag of sweets vanishing quicker than a specter at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 1st: 7
🍬 
Subsequent sugar rush & state of terror left the reader as dazed as the final girl of their favorite slasher flick: 7

Total: 25

 

4) The Hunger, Alma Katsu

While I would recommend Alma Katsu’s novel of historical fiction with a supernatural twist, The Hunger, at any time, or for any season, it is certainly appropriate on the cusp of the darker, colder half of the year. For the Donner Party, once they came into October, and the possibility of bitter, ice-cold weather, their situation became all the more precarious, and that’s saying something for the twelve families and twenty-one individuals who’d been stalked by an unseen evil since departing from Independence, Missouri. Katsu’s reimagining of the events is full of mysterious deaths, potential witchcraft, and damning secrets, and I’m sure you can understand why my best recommendation for a tasty treat while reading this harrowing novel is… nothing at all.

thehunger sweet2

Tamsen Donner is the most richly rendered of all the Katsu-interpreted characters, and insights like, “Women were always forced to smile. Tamsen had mastered it so well it sometimes frightened her,” had me lamenting ever so slightly when we moved to a different character’s point of view. I say, ‘ever so slightly,’ because the story is so suspenseful, so tightly-wound and thoroughly geared toward the unspooling of its horrifying conclusion that I could never fully despair when the next thread of narrative revealed itself. I could only grit my teeth around my empty mouth, fold my frame over my rumbling stomach, and wonder what was worse… to die so very, very hungry, or to have that hunger satiated in the most ghastly and diabolical of ways. I’ll leave you with my endorsement of The Hunger and your empty candy bowl to ponder the question yourself.

Sugar & Spook Meter:

🍬 Halloween hijinks abound: 0
🍬 
Grimness and / or gore are proliferated throughout: 9
🍬 
Book prompted the need to turn off porch light & eschew trick-or-treaters: 8
🍬 
Candy consumption combined with pressured page-turning had the reader’s bag of sweets vanishing quicker than a specter at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 1st: 9
🍬 
Subsequent sugar rush & state of terror left the reader as dazed as the final girl of their favorite slasher flick: 7

Total: 33

 

3) European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewomen, Theodora Goss

If you haven’t read the first in Theodora Goss’ Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, let me tell you what will happen if you do: you’ll have to fight off a near-overwhelming urge to go back and re-read all the classics from which Alchemist’s Daughter pulls from— Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Frankenstein, Rappaccini’s Daughter—or succumb to this desire while possessing the knowledge that these landmark horror novels won’t be half as entertaining, lacking as they are the quintet of heroines contained within Goss’ beautifully written pages.

monstrous sweet3

The same goes for the second in the series, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. What candy should you devour while frolicking through London with our brave and brilliant heroines, you ask? How about Peanut M&Ms, for a slight improvement on a delicious classic? A chocolate-brown one for Mary Jekyll, our realistic, rational by-the-book planner; an orange for Diana Hyde, our explosive young delinquent; green for Beatrice Rappaccini, and her verdant, noxious tea; red for the blood drawn by Catherin Moreau’s razor-sharp teeth; yellow for Justine Frankenstein, and the unfortunate pallor of her undead flesh. I’ll throw in a couple of blue M&Ms for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, but they’re far less intriguing than our colorful, monstrous gentlewomen. Do yourself a favor this Halloween, and become acquainted with the adventures of the Athena Club, “only two shillings at all the best booksellers,” as Catherine so helpfully likes to point out.

Sugar & Spook Meter:

🍬 Halloween hijinks abound: 6
🍬 
Grimness and / or gore are proliferated throughout: 4
🍬 
Book prompted the need to turn off porch light & eschew trick-or-treaters: 7
🍬 
Candy consumption combined with pressured page-turning had the reader’s bag of sweets vanishing quicker than a specter at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 1st: 9
🍬 
Subsequent sugar rush and state of terror left the reader as dazed as the final girl of their favorite slasher flick: 9

Total: 35

 

2) Baby Teeth, Zoje Stage

One thing there is no shortage of in Stage’s chilling debut novel, Baby Teeth, is unsettling images of various sets of teeth, including Hanna’s baby teeth, and her mother, Suzette’s, more permanent (hypothetically speaking, unless Hanna has anything to say about it) chompers. If you find the frequent references to shattering teeth or razor-sharp teeth a wee bit creepy, I’ve got the perfect diversion for you while you read: a lollipop. It may seem counterintuitive, working your tongue over the fruity, sugar-sweet candy, maybe nibbling off a corner with your own pearly whites, but anything’s better than reading of Hanna’s barking, growling noises sans distraction, of her opening her mouth as wide as she could, of her clacking her teeth together and biting the air, of her twisting her head against her mother’s resisting arm in a “new tactic in her fight to get close enough to bite her.” Trust me… go with the distraction.

baby sweet4

There are many more disturbing visuals to unpack here than just some creepy dental imagery: purposeful medication tampering, well-positioned tacks on the floor, Hanna’s attempt to set her mother on fire, the apparent resurrection of a centuries-old witch. Risking a sugar rush at best and a headache at worse is worth the comfort of chomping a Tootsie Pop, so you can inch closer and closer to Baby Teeth’s climax with a minor buffer of sweetness against Hanna’s bitter acts.

Sugar & Spook Meter:

🍬 Halloween hijinks abound: 2
🍬 
Grimness and / or gore are proliferated throughout: 9
🍬 
Book prompted the need to turn off porch light & eschew trick-or-treaters: 9
🍬 
Candy consumption combined with pressured page-turning had the reader’s bag of sweets vanishing quicker than a specter at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 1st: 10
🍬 
Subsequent sugar rush and state of terror left the reader as dazed as the final girl of their favorite slasher flick: 10

Total: 40

 

1) The Outsider, Stephen King

You know that feeling you get when you plunge your hand into a bag of your favorite Halloween candy over and over again, popping one after another of bite-sized Butterfingers or Twix caramel cookie bars into your mouth until your ears ring from the sugar overload? That’s the same feeling you’ll get once you begin King’s newest novel, the pages of which you won’t be able to turn fast enough in your race to discover who (or what) actually killed eleven-year old Frank Peterson.

outsider sweet5

Terry Maitland and Holly Gibney are two more interesting, relatable King characters in a long line of them; Maitland is a popular local English teacher and Little League coach, and Gibney is Bill Hodges’s partner in the Mr. Mercedes investigation, and it is Terry and Holly, as much as King himself, that lend themselves to the King Size Reese’s recommendation here. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are the everyman’s Halloween candy. They’re the candy classic, the ‘two great tastes that taste great together’-chocolate-peanut-butter-combination-made-in-a-candy-lover’s-heaven. And a King Size PB cup? Well, that’s more than fifty percent more creamy, savory deliciousness.

I got my hands on The Outsider at the start of Memorial Day weekend, then traveled to Boston on Friday evening for a road race on Saturday, and a friend’s birthday party Saturday night. I didn’t return home until Sunday, and still managed to plow through the five-hundred seventy-six page beast of a novel by Monday afternoon. It was perhaps the fastest I’ve ever wolfed down one of King’s books in the twenty years I’ve been reading them. Did I read it too quickly? Should I have slowed down to savor the mystery more? Well, there may be no wrong way to eat a Reese’s, but there’s definitely no wrong way to read a Stephen King novel.

Sugar & Spook Meter:

🍬 Halloween hijinks abound: 2
🍬 
Grimness and / or gore are proliferated throughout: 10
🍬 
Book prompted the need to turn off porch light & eschew trick-or-treaters: 10
🍬 
Candy consumption combined with pressured page-turning had the reader’s bag of sweets vanishing quicker than a specter at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 1st: 10
🍬 
Subsequent sugar rush and state of terror left the reader as dazed as the final girl of their favorite slasher flick: 10

Total: 42

Thank you for coming along with me on this countdown of the top 5 books to experience this Halloween, & the candy to devour while reading them. Seek me out on social media if you’d like to discuss any of the Sugar & Spook Meter ratings, or the books featured here in general:

Author Website / Goodreads / Amazon Author Page / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

 


 Christa Carmen lives in Westerly, Rhode Island with her husband and a beagle who rivals her in stubbornness. Her short fiction has appeared in multiple publications and her debut fiction collection, “Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked,” was released in August 2018 by Unnerving. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in English and psychology, and a master’s degree from Boston College in counseling psychology. She is currently pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing & Literature from Harvard Extension School. Christa works for Pfizer in Clinical Trial Packaging, and at a local hospital as a mental health clinician. When she’s not writing, she is volunteering with one of several organizations that aim to maximize public awareness and seek solutions to the ever-growing opioid crisis in southern RI and southeastern CT.

Newest Work: Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked

Book Buy Links: Amazon 

A young woman’s fears regarding the gruesome photos appearing on her cell phone prove justified in a ghastly and unexpected way. A chainsaw-wielding Evil Dead fan defends herself against a trio of undead intruders. A bride-to-be comes to wish that the door between the physical and spiritual worlds had stayed shut on All Hallows’ Eve. A lone passenger on a midnight train finds that the engineer has rerouted them toward a past she’d prefer to forget. A mother abandons a life she no longer recognizes as her own to walk up a mysterious staircase in the woods. 

In her debut collection, Christa Carmen combines horror, charm, humor, and social critique to shape thirteen haunting, harrowing narratives of women struggling with both otherworldly and real-world problems. From grief, substance abuse, and mental health disorders, to a post-apocalyptic exodus, a seemingly sinister babysitter with unusual motivations, and a group of pesky ex-boyfriends who won’t stay dead, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is a compelling exploration of horrors both supernatural and psychological, and an undeniable affirmation of Carmen’s flair for short fiction.

5 thoughts on “Top 5 Books to Read this Halloween, and the Candy to Devour While Doing So with Christa Carmen

Add yours

    1. I’m unfamiliar with Grady Hendrix, but I do have My Best Friend’s Exorcism somewhere! And yes, this post is fantastic, I was so entertained when I first read it! All my thanks goes to Christa. 😀

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