No Tricks, Just Treats: Halloween Fiction, October 15, 2011 | The Reader’s Shelf

Finding books to suit a holiday mood is always a great pleasure, and Halloween offers plenty of moody fiction. Here are six titles‚ from the mysterious and lyrical (just right for reading via jack-o’-lantern light) to the dark and dreadful‚ that bring new twists to the season of trick or treat.

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (Doubleday. 2011. ISBN 9780385534635. $26.95) is the perfect read for those who prefer grandly detailed and fantastical stories of magic over blood and doom. Imagine Alice’s fall into Wonderland mixed with the first glimpse of the edible garden in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and you will get a sense of the circus’s ice garden, living carousel, and cloud maze. This astounding and enticing circus is the battleground for two contestants, Celia and Marco, who must create feats of magic in a game for which they don’t know the rules. At first they create alone, each conjuring enchanting exhibits, but slowly they come to admire each other’s work and begin to collaborate. This captivating, charming, and enticing debut will delight readers with its imagination and enthrall them with its language and characters.

As visually compelling as it is creepy, Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Quirk. 2011. ISBN 9781594744761. $17.99) tells the story of Jacob, who grew up listening to his grandfather’s tales of the strange children he lived with in an orphanage off the coast of Wales. Now 16, Jacob is full of angst, alienated, and, upon his grandfather’s death, completely undone. He travels to Wales to find the truth and discovers a place he could never have imagined. Vintage photographs heighten this atmospheric novel’s spooky factor and contribute to the story’s unfolding, which plays out with sharp plotting, well- developed major characters, and a central mystery that weaves between two worlds. Readers who like to be unsettled on fright night will be quickly captured.

Unsettling indeed is S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep(Harper: Harper Collins. 2011. ISBN 9780062060556. $25.99), a tension-filled nightmare that places readers inside the claustrophobic mind of a woman lost to herself. Christine Lucas wakes each morning remembering nothing of her life. She only knows that while she sleeps her memories of the day are wiped away, and each morning her husband, Ben, patiently tells her of her condition, a form of amnesia caused by a horrible car accident. Christine is dependent upon Ben and her therapist, Dr. Nash‚ until Dr. Nash suggests she keep a journal. This journal allows readers to figure out Christine’s life at the same rate as she does. As the first page of the journal reads Don’t Trust Ben, the result is a perfectly paced and plotted story, full of anxiety and chills.

In Graveminder (Morrow. 2011. ISBN 9780061826870. $22.99), Melissa Marr creates a rich world of the dead. Long ago, the town of Claysville made a contract with a mysterious figure. A central rule is that a graveminder must care for the departed, or else those who have died will come back as the Hungry Dead. Rebekkah Barrow is the new graveminder. Her duties take her to the mysterious world of the dead and connect her with Byron Montgomery, family-bound to fill the role of undertaker. Together they must figure out why the dead are roaming and how to stop them, all while learning more about the mysterious figure who seemingly controls both the underworld and Claysville. Eerie and atmospheric, with great world-building, this modern gothic should please paranormal romance fans.

Colson Whitehead’s Zone One (Doubleday. Oct. 2011. ISBN 9780385528078. $25.95) mixes literary style with zombie conventions. The plague that has pushed America to the apocalyptic edge appears to be over, and the focus of the provisional government, based in Buffalo, is to reclaim New York City from the undead. Marines take care of clearing lower Manhattan, leaving teams of civilians to work on getting rid of the less dangerous stragglers. Mark Spitz, on such a team, tells the story of his life and the plague in rapid and disjointed flashbacks. With a stress on Spitz’s internal reflections and Whitehead’s evocation of place, the real draw here is the styling. The novel seethes and meanders far more than it lurches and bleeds.

Nothing says Halloween like werewolves. In Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf (Knopf. 2011. ISBN 9780307595089. $25.95), Jake Marlowe, the sole surviving werewolf in the modern world, is in a dark place. Worn and battered, he has endured much since his birth in the 19th century, including killing and eating his treasured wife and enduring the brutal monthly changes that cause him to crave sex and violence. Adding to Jake’s bleak situation, Eric Grainer, the son of a man he killed, is consumed with hunting Jake down. But suddenly Jake’s will to live takes over as he is off on a run for his life. While there is plenty of blood and bodies here, it is Duncan’s glorious prose‚ dark, witty, and razor sharp‚ that is the real payoff in this fast-paced read.

Author Information
Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at
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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at