Start with a mystery, throw in a dash of the spooky, and add a bit of romance and you’ve got the premise for A Lesson in Vengeance, a fast and entertaining read. This book is available for purchase now.
The book is told from the point of view of Felicity Morrow, a girl just returning to school after witnessing a horrific accident that resulted in a death the year before. Only Felicity knows something that other people don’t: her girlfriend was murdered, and Felicity knows who did it.
While the premise in and of itself isn’t anything new, the execution is very different. Felicity struggles with both feelings of guilt and embarrassment over her mental illness diagnosis. I could relate a little to the second thing. No one should feel embarrassed about having a mental illness, but I did for many years because of the stigma that comes along with it. Author Victoria Lee has a Ph.D. in psychology, which she put to interesting use here. Felicity was a fascinating character, partly because of her struggles, although I really didn’t like her.
In fact, I didn’t like any of the characters. That didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the book at all; if anything, it made me more curious about what secrets each of them was hiding and who they really were underneath their shiny exteriors. There are four other characters that Felicity interacts with, each of them a roommate in her dorm, a dorm that is steeped in legends of murder and witchcraft. Felicity is drawn to these legends and to the supposed magic that comes with them. What role magic plays in this story is a discovery I’ll leave to the reader, so as to avoid spoilers.
While A Lesson in Vengeance was good, there were some things about it that I didn’t love. The pacing felt choppy, with more time spent on developing the plot than seemed necessary, and not enough time spent on the climax. I would have loved for the ending to be stretched out a little more, and it left me feeling a little unsatisfied. I also wonder if the very end of the book was a late addition because it really didn’t fit the tone of the story. Then again, I’m the sort of person who likes endings to be a little less…. finished, so maybe I’m not the best judge here.
A Lesson in Vengeance was a fun read, and would be great paired with a cozy blanket, a stormy night, and a favorite warm drink.
I suppose October is when all the ghosts and ghoulies come out to play. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been big on Halloween. More power to people who are, but it’s just not my jam. I am a fan of a good spooky book, though, and my youngest went through a phase when he loved all things Halloween related (it was an odd choice for a three year old, but…okay?)
Here’s a roundup of some spooky and not-so-spooky books for fiends of all ages. Enjoy!
For little monsters:
Most parents are familiar with the Sandra Boynton books. There are about a million of them, all with cute little critters and fun storylines. The number of times I sang the Pajama Time song with the kids is truly astonishing! Spooky Pookie is another sweet little story, this time about a pig who can’t figure out what costume to wear. It’s great for three years old and under.
The Ghost-Eye Tree
This book scared the snot out of me when I was young! This is a perfect cuddle-up-and-read-aloud kind of book, and the illustrations are amazing.
The Monster at the End of this Book
This has all the trappings of a good horror book: monsters, tension, a twist at the end! All it’s missing is the spookiness. Instead, it has something better: a great sense of humor. This one is so much fun! It’s one I think all parents should read with their littles.
For older elementary ghoulies/ middle grade ghosts:
I love this book so, so much! The Bunnicula books are a blast! They are clever and creative, full of some of the most memorable pets in print. I have fond memories of this book and I loved reading it with my oldest for the first time a few years ago.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Ah, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! I think every adult of a certain age read these when they were young. This is the sort of book that begs to be read while eating s’mores.
The Beast and the Bethany
This book is such fun! It reminds me of nothing so much as a lighthearted, kid-friendly take on The Picture of DorianGray. The characters are delightfully nasty, the Beast is brutally entertaining, and the illustrations are a perfect addition. Plus, there’s a sequel coming before too long! Review
For Young-adult vampires:
House of Hollow
If you’re looking for eerie, this dark fairy tale/ horror is for you. It actually creeped me out a little, which is not an easy feat. I didn’t love the wrap-up at the end, but the rest of the book was great. Review
Tales from the Hinterland
Tales from the Hinterland is a creepy and clever book of shorts stories that take place in the world of author Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood. While I didn’t like the final book in the Hazel Wood duology (at all), this collection of fairy tales that take place in that world are fantastic. You don’t need to read the original series to understand or enjoy this book at all, which makes it even better. Review
The Devouring Gray
Uncanny happenings, monsters, and townsfolk who are not who they seem make The Devouring Gray a fun-filled, creepy book. It’s a quick read too, which makes it a great palette-cleanser after a heavy book. Review
For adult zombies:
Meddling Kids is a love letter to the Scooby Gang, the Goonies, or the Hardy Boys. It’s a mystery-meets-supernatural book that answers the question: what happens when those meddling kids grow up and return home to solve one last case?
In the Garden of Spite
I think books about serial killers fall into the “spooktastic” category. I was enthralled by this book from page one. I knew nothing about the Widow of La Porte before reading this and I was shocked to learn that it was based on a real person. Yikes! Review
Nothing but Blackened Teeth
While this never managed to flat-out scare me, Nothing but Blackened Teeth was nonetheless an interesting read. It had a bit of a Shirley Jackson vibe (though with gore). Review
I read this for the first time not all that long ago and holy crap! I still find myself uneasily examining it. It is engrossing and thought-provoking. It’s also believable, which makes it even more unsettling.
Of course I had to have Frankenstein on this list! There’s nothing quite so scary as watching a human play God.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
I generally prefer thought-provoking gothic horrors to gore-fests, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the best examples of a smart gothic horror that I’ve read. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I highly suggest you do.
There are many other great spooky reads that didn’t make this list, mainly because it would be way too long if I added everything. What are some of your favorite spooktastic reads?
House of Hollow is one of those rare books that actually managed to creep me out a little. Oddly enough, it’s technically not a horror novel. Or is it? There are definitely elements of horror and it has a fairy tale feel- and really, what are the original fairy tales if not a little bit horrific?
The book follows three sisters: Grey, Vivi, and Iris (I’m not going to lie: I found their names to be a little bit much). When they were young, they disappeared without a trace, only to be found weeks later with no memories of where they were or what happened to them. That’s scary enough on its own. Add to that the fact that they were changed and the hints of creepiness start to sneak in. Ten years later the unthinkable happens, and one of the sisters disappears again, leaving the other two- Vivi and Iris- to try to figure out where she is and how she got there. To do that, they will need to figure out what really happened to them all those years ago.
Interestingly, House of Hollow starts out seeming like an unsolved mystery that will turn into a thriller. However, what came next completely surprised me. Suddenly, I was thrown into an incredibly eerie story, one that was unsettling and disorienting. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. They threw me off balance and left me wondering whether to cheer them on or hope they failed in their search. This is the sort of book that made me wonder if the main characters were actually the villains. It was delightful.
The descriptions added to the creepy atmosphere of the book and some of the details were seriously messed up. The fact that I didn’t expect the book to go in that direction when I picked it up definitely added to the dark atmosphere.
I didn’t particularly care for the add-on to the ending, mainly because it didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story the author was telling. The rest of House of Hollow was a spooktastic blast, though. This would be a great late-night October read, if you go for unearthly books around Halloween.
I just want to warn everyone that there will be major spoilers below. I’m sorry about that, but I need to discuss this disturbing little story somewhere. I am really hoping for comments on this one because I would love to hear other ideas on “The Lottery”. I need to be able to unpack this thing! This is my first read-through and, knowing Shirley Jackson, I really should have expected it to be disquieting. It completely sucked me in and I can’t stop thinking about it.
——HUGE SPOILERS BELOW——
“The Lottery” takes place in a small town, the sort of place where everyone knows each other. It follows the story of a lottery which the reader finds out is drawn annually, the winner ultimately being the loser, as they are stoned to death. I found it to be unsettling and engrossing, easily the best Shirley Jackson work I’ve read, and one that’s kept me thinking. There are themes of casual acceptance of violence and apathy toward change or improvement, which are chillingly still applicable today.
In the beginning of “The Lottery” the tone is almost lighthearted. The reader is given no clue that the story will end in such an upsetting way. The men talk about their crops; the children talk about school and eventually even start playing. The story says that “Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones” . With the picture the author has painted of a lighthearted ceremony, I wondered at first if the boys are grabbing stones to skip across a lake, or to use as a fort. Only at the end is it revealed that those very stones gathered by the children were to be used to stone someone to death- possibly even one of the very children who gathered the stones. The lottery has taken on a familiar feel to the participants, and almost seems to signal the beginning of a season. Certainly, no one seems to be upset or even reluctant to participate.
Despite the chilling violence that has taken place for years and years, no one questions or objects to the sacrificing of a life. In fact, when one woman points out that some places have stopped having lotteries, a man claims that there’s “nothing but trouble in that”. This is where I started to see a little beyond the surface, and felt rising tension. This “turn”, so to speak, is one that has served Jackson well in her other works, and it worked wonderfully here. The villagers accept the violence without argument, even encouraging their children to participate. There is almost a duality shown in the neighbors. They can talk about doing dishes one moment, and plan on stoning someone to death in the next. However, the ultimate protest of the person who has “won” the lottery, coupled with the relief of those who have not, shows that no one is quite comfortable with the situation. Not one of them steps in, says anything against it, or even foregoes the chance to throw a stone, though. This shows an apathy and unwillingness to take steps to change or improve. The keeping of tradition is the most important thing, no matter that the tradition is violent and wrong. Even the disheveled state of the lottery box, which has not been fixed, shows a stoic acceptance and indifference- perhaps even an active resistance- to changing or stopping the violence.
“The Lottery” isn’t just a creepy little tale: it’s a commentary on the acceptance of violence, and an unwillingness to question the status quo. This unwillingness to change anything, or even examine whether change needs to happen is still echoed today. Seen through that lens, “The Lottery” becomes at once both fascinating and disturbing. Can you see why I can’t stop thinking about it?
Have you read “The Lottery”? (I kind of hope so, if you’ve read this post, seeing as I posted spoiler after spoiler). What did you think? Did you get the same things out of it that I did?