Halloween is my favorite time of the year! The month when spooky, scary, and sinister things are thought to come out and play; to stray from their worlds to ours for a short time. I celebrate in style every year: I make the month of October one giant horrorfest! I want to take these last few days before Halloween—the main event—to talk about the books I read, their merits, and what you should be reading on the most frightening day of the year! The reviewed books include: The Forest of Hands and Teeth; the Devil Survivor manga; the Judge series; Wait Till Helen Comes; Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse; The Knife of Never Letting Go; the short story collection Dark Water; Annihilation; Uzumaki; and different stories by Edgar Allan Poe.
There are ten books I am writing about in total: five that I just read this month, and six that are from throughout the year, but I feel they deserve a place on this list. I think there is something for everyone, as I have a good mix of different types of books. There are three young adult, five adult, and three manga. Of these, four are either short story collections, or can be read as short stories. So, let’s get to it!
I want to begin by featuring The Forest of Hands and Teeth, a young adult novel by Carrie Ryan. I bought it months ago after reading the blurb on Goodreads, and deciding that it would be a wicked good ride.
It is advertised as a girl living in a dystopian-esque town where no one can enter the forest due to their fear of… Something. It doesn’t really say. I liked the vibe that the town was being controlled by a select few and that the main character, a girl named Mary, would have to hunt out the truth. It sounded similar to “The Village”, a 2004 movie I watched in college. To be honest, the description sounded more terrifying than the story is in actuality; I found it to be more a tale of mystery and despair. However, it was still a great, fast-paced read. I definitely recommend it if you’re looking for something to finish in a day. The story seemed to just fly by, and then it was over.
One word of caution—I bought the second book in the series online, finding out when it arrived that the main character is not going to be Mary. Just a note—as I was disappointed at this news.
Going forward, I will be listing off the books in ascending order of least scary to most terrifying, with selections by Edgar Allan Poe at the very end. To me, Poe is the epitome of all things horrifying; terrifying; disturbing; twisted.
The decidedly least scary book on my list is the manga adaptation of Atlus’s original Devil Survivor game. I think this is a great way to get people involved in the Shin Megami Tensei (literally: “Rebirth of the Goddess”) franchise, especially as most of us can’t just go out and purchase an expensive gaming device willy-nilly. This volume is priced at $10.99, which is about average for manga these days; if not slightly below. And you definitely get your money’s worth! The story covers the first two days of the game and really sets the scene.
The story follows the protagonist, who has been bestowed the name Kazuya Minegishi, as he is swept up in a demon war occurring in modern-day Tokyo. He and his companions are trapped within the Yamanote Circle, an area named for the Yamanote train line that creates a natural border. In book one, we get a taste of the protagonist, his two friends, and his cousin, Naoya, who is shrouded in mystery and an air of danger. On the very the first page, the religious group, the Shomonkai, are featured on the news. While we don’t learn too much about them them just yet, Amane is clearly another dubious character.
The splash pages between chapters provide appealing illustrations of different demons featured in this first volume. They detail the facts about the creatures and tell you which lore or area they are from. One of the most engaging aspects of SMT is that the creators use folklore and religions from all over the world as fuel for the demons in-game. No matter where you’re from, something you have heard of or believe in will inevitable appear.
A word of warning: make sure you check the printing in-store if you are going to purchase this. My copy was printed so that the right-hand page has frames and dialogue right up to the center of the spine. It can be quite annoying. It’s hard to read like this, and has caused me to somewhat damage the integrity of the volume because I had to bend the pages to read everything.
This book is filled with numerous action scenes, the art is pretty great, and the cover promises new characters created especially for this adaptation. Overall, I enjoyed this retelling of the story, even if everything didn’t line up with the original; something I plan to discuss further in October’s edition of my new series, Monthly Media Roundup. I look forward to volume two, which will be released in the US in December. As a bonus, I want to mention that veteran players will instantly recognize a few cameos of people who will be of grave import down the line. I was so excited to see my favorite characters reimagined; their stories branching out in front of my eyes once more.
This next series is also manga. I have a hard time getting too creeped out when I can see images of what’s happening. I love the stories, but it takes away some of the fun—Kind of like watching Jaws 2 or Jaws 3.
Getting on with it, Judge is a six-volume series by Yoshiki Tonogai. I had previously read Doubt, his first series published in the US, and found it intriguing and enjoyable. I loved the twists and unexpected ending… And found this series to be very similar. Once again, Tonogai definitely sticks to what he does best, stories where the main character must weed out killers among the innocent, and you know, try to save everyone in an idealistic fashion. For the price, my version cost me $12.99, which is more pricey than the last one, even though it has about the same number of color pages and content. It is slightly taller (read: a real pain to fit on a standard manga-sized bookshelf), but the rest is on par. I wish they had printed it a more standard size and charged less.
The characters this time around are all pretty stereotypical and standard: we have our main character, Hiro; Hiro’s “childhood friend”; the “ smart one”, a lawyer; the “pretty girl who used to be fat”; the “stuck-up musician”; the “lustful one”; the “hikikomori” (or “shut-in”); the “one who died before the story began”; and… Wait. The “gay one”?! Yes, there is a character in here that has been slated for torture and death, seemingly because he’s gay. I never quite puzzled this one out, and it irked me, no lie, but the story itself was interesting enough that I let it go. In fact, I had completely forgotten about this poor sod until I came back to the story to write it up.
Anyway, the story is definitely well-told and full of surprises, even if I don’t agree with the author’s/character’s opinions. It is a series you won’t want to put down either, as each volume ends with cliffhangers! I would try to wait until I bought a few books ahead so that I wouldn’t feel so on edge after reading up to the end. Very murder mystery. Much wow!
Next up, is a young adult book that is definitely a creepy contender. It’s titled Wait Till Helen Comes, and is an older book by author Mary Downing Hahn. I say “older”, but it was really only published in 1987, and could easily take place now. Because the main characters are young, the absence of cell phones and laptops can be easily ignored, while activities such as bug-catching, reading and writing are things children and teens today enjoy just as much as ever. I only realized the book was older when I wondered why the kids didn’t have any portable game players, and thought to check the copyright.
I downed this skinny tome in a day! It was extremely pleasant to read, with the font, sizing, and spacing easy on the eyes. There were a few words I had to look up, so keep your dictionary or phone handy.
The story starts shortly after young Molly and her brother Michael are forced into a new family. It’s their mom’s second marriage (and don’t bother wondering; it says nothing about why) and they despise their new, younger stepsister. Her name is Heather and she seems like the biggest turd in all of humanity, always creating trouble and drama for our antagonist and her blood-relatives. Shortly after they move to a repurposed church, Heather finds a gravestone with initials that match hers and—yup, yup—the child’s age is also her age. GASP!! While all this seems too perfect, she also insists that she has met the girl’s ghost and that they have become friends. And Heather keeps insisting that this girl is going to come and make the others sorry. Now, this could easily be dismissed as the prattling of a crazy demon-child, Molly witnesses weird happenings and things just seem to go from bad to terrible.
Part of why I read this story in just a day is because I’ve been conditioned to expect the worst from all the other books I’ve read. It is definitely a book for younger people, as it has a moral and happy ending, but kept seeing images of Hell on Earth. It would be plausible for someone like King or Koontz to take this same premise, but bring it somewhere much darker and sinister.
The next entry is more of a blend of mystery and classic J-horror that also treads that fine line. Another is a Japanese novel by Yukito Ayatsuji. Once again, we have a young adult book. It focuses on the life of a transfer student, Kouichi, who has just transferred out to the boonies. He life becomes increasingly complicated by the existence of a girl who everyone tells him does not exist, the mysteries of his school and its one dilapidated building, and the fact that his father couldn’t care less about his safety or happiness.
Well-written and translated, this book is amazing!!! It is by far one of the best translations I have ever read, and I read a lot of foreign books. The story is compelling, the characters interesting and mysterious, the oddities fittingly eerie. This was another book I couldn’t put down for more than a few minutes at a time. I had the nice, Yen Press hardcover edition that includes both tankouban volumes. To clarify, this story was originally serialized, chapter by chapter, and then collected into two regular books, called tankouban. My version contains both of those individual books. Oh, and the wrap cover is gorgeous, full-color, and haunting.
With Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse (not pictured), we are getting into more adult territory. This is a short story collection by Otsuichi, containing the title story, Yuko, and Black Fairy Tale. While I agree that Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse has it’s merits, I also agree with most people who dislike Yuko for its simplicity, straightforwardness, and dull twist. I am going to discuss Black Fairy Tale here, which is the only one you truly need to check out.
Black Fairy Tale is a classic, no matter whether you like J-horror or not. It is a story I could see one of the American greats thinking up, too. The story centers around a teenaged girl who has lost an eye and is selected for a transplant. Once she receives the eye, she starts to see things that don’t match up with her reality. Realizing it may be the former owner’s memories, she tracks him down and decides to investigate his suicide—Or murder? This story is told alongside a fairy tale of an eye-stealing raven, whose only wish is to be loved. The juxtaposition is interesting and eerie. And who wrote that fairy tale, and why is it in the local café? Does the narrator really know the townspeople around her? The questions pile up until you think you have the answers, but are later forced again and again to reevaluate.
If you pick up just one story this Halloween, you should go for this masterful tale of suspense. I would go as far to say it’s almost on par with my favorite author, Edgar Allan Poe. While not quite as terrifying, it has the feel of a more modernized version of something he would write.
Onwards and upwards, to even more gruesome tales. The Knife of Never Letting Go is one of the books I read this month. I think I purchased it on the same bookstore trip when I got The Forest of Hands and Teeth. This is a novel by Patrick Ness that has won a slew of awards!
I enjoyed this book—to an extent. There were some complications. For starters, there are several gruesome deaths (read: slaughters) in this book. That is the number one reason why I would caution readers before diving right in. If you don’t like gore or the deaths of innocents, think twice. The other reason I had a hard time liking this book too much is the pacing. There is never a dull moment, which can be good, but I prefer it when chapters end at a good stopping point. Several times I wanted to tear out my hair in exasperation at the fact that everything in this book is a friggin’ cliffhanger! The line needs to be drawn somewhere. Us readers need a place where we can feel okay about stopping to do work or go to sleep without worrying that something even more despicable is going to happen. It’s pure madness! (The story is also about madness, so it’s a bit of a pun that you’ll get if you check this disturbing piece of horror out.)
Oh, Todd is also pretty annoying. The best analogy I can come up with is Ganta from Deadman Wonderland (the anime). I imagine him similarly, as a whiny little brat who cries through most of the book (not always unwarranted), not getting too much done, but complaining when things go very wrong. He is very immature and simplistic in his thinking, making him somewhat flip-floppy. If I could make up a quote to describe his thought process, it would go something like: “We must save everyone and get the truth out there in order to survive! Okay, forget it, let’s just run away and hide instead! Oh no, this made someone else get hurt and die?! Why is this happening to me?!?!”
It’s good points? The story is pretty amazing. There are several twists, loads of questions that’ll drive you mad and make you read on (it can also be a good thing), and a few likeable characters. While the characters I liked most were not the main character—who I disliked most of the way through—I do have to say the main character is definitely consistent and honest. My favorites are Viola, Hildy, and Wilf; if you’re curious.
I do recommend this book because the mystery is fun, even if it does only get revealed in little coveted bits, one at a time. There is also most definitely horror so visceral it made my face contort while I read.
For spine-tingling, supernatural horror, I recommend Dark Water, a collection of short stories by Koji Suzuki, the master who wrote the Ring series, and was involved with both the Japanese and American versions of the “Dark Water” films. He has other collections of short stories, which I’d love to get my hands on, as well as one short story, titled Drop, that was printed on… Rolls of toilet paper?! This may sound like sensationalism and stupidity, and well, I can agree. I looked this up and they are on real, legitimate rolls of toilet paper. The quick read is printed several times over per roll. I guess this is one story I will never be able to get my hands on… I can’t find any of the English—erh—editions anywhere. They are probably all long-gone, literally down the toilet, or maybe never even opened; merely kept as memorabilia. Something so delicate would not be able to hold its integrity once read, unfortunately.
Actually getting to the meat of Dark Water: this is a collection of seven short stories bound by the frame story of a grandmother telling—or fabricating—different tales for her grandchild who visits her house by the sea. While out on her daily walks for her health, she often finds treasures that have washed up ashore. She loves bonding with her granddaughter over the fascinating items she has collected.
The first actual story, Floating Water, is what the Dark Water movies are based on. It is pretty typical horror story of a dead little girl trying to make contact with a living little girl who just moved into her vicinity (Are we back to Wait Till Helen Comes?!), enticing her with some goodies that she used to own. The living girl’s mother becomes increasingly worried by the way the mysterious Hello Kitty lunchbox keeps showing up in her apartment. The story is interesting, but nothing to write home about.
My favorites are Dream Cruise and Adrift. They both involve boats, and they are by far the creepiest in the whole collection. The first involves a man being taken on a boat ride under the guise of a pleasure cruise, when in actuality its owners’ are going to pressure him into joining their pyramid scheme. The boat ends up getting caught out at sea by some mysterious force, that— Well, read it to find out. The latter is about a man who agrees to reside in a boat found floating at sea while it is tugged back to shore. Somewhere along the line, however, the ties are cut and he ends up Adrift in the ocean, left to ponder the original owners’ disappearance. He finds clues, but doesn’t get too far. The feel of the story is akin to cosmic horror, but much better than any in the genre I’d read previously. I had heard plans for a movie adaptation for this one were in the works, but it doesn’t seem as though anything ever came of it.
Forest Under the Sea provides a satisfying connection back to the frame story and is a good, cathartic note to end the collection, the frame story circling back intertwining to form the true conclusion.
I highly recommend this book. This is my absolute favorite out of all the horror books I am covering in this post, and is perfect for short doses of eerie and sinister. If I had to choose, Adrift and Forest Under the Sea are my favorites, and could easily be stand-alones. However, if you have the time, then you should definitely just read the whole dang thing straight through. You will not be disappointed with the dazzling mind of Suzuki.
Going back to the American side of things, we have Annihilation; a mysterious, disturbing, somewhat unsatisfying novel by Jeff VanderMeer. If you previously read my review on this piece, then you probably know all about my gripes with the book’s lack of proper grammar and its confusing style.
The book is worth a read, but if I had to buy it again, I would get the eBook version—hands down. The paperback is a nice, small size, making it packable, but eBooks are cheaper and it isn’t worth thirteen dollars. Woe are the days when paperbacks became expensive!
The story itself is about a nameless lady, known simply as the biologist. She, along with three other women, are tasked with exploring, identifying, and surveying Area X, a mysterious anomaly in the landscape. It is an area rife with life, slightly wrong or disturbing creatures, and other strange, unidentifiable life forms. At the center of this place, so teeming with life, is a tower built into the ground where barely anything exists—aside from weird writing scrawled along the walls. Secrets abound, as well as discoveries too terrifying to imagine, while the biologist keeps her wits, delving deeper and deeper into the enigmatic terrain of Area X.
I’m going to be straight with you: don’t read this book unless you plan on also reading the others. The conclusion of Annihilation concludes nothing. I was very aggravated and spitefully, grudgingly, immediately ordered the rest of the series off of Amazon. I have read the second, but still can’t muster the fortitude to get on with the third. I have read many reviews, which seem to deem all three endings unsatisfactory… I will get there, but man do I need a break from the lunacy and horror of this series.
The most awful (in a good way) book on this list is one I don’t even like to speak of: Uzumaki, by Junji Ito. Meaning “spiral” in Japanese, this is the one manga I have ever read that gave me chills and nightmares. The pictures are worth just as much as the words accompanying them in this macabre, totally deranged series. It is a bunch of short stories that can be read either by themselves or as a whole. I truly do love that the author made them able to stand alone.
I have the omnibus edition, brought over by Viz Media, probably the most famous American manga company. The have so many fan-favorite titles,
such as Naruto, Death Note, One Piece, and also own the Shojo Beat imprint, Shonen Jump, and a slew of novels, light novels, as well as most anime versions of their series. So, this is an expensive book, ringing in at $27.99 retail price… But I just had to have it. I had long heard of Junji Ito, the king of horror manga. The book itself is beautifly bound and printed, with a dark gray dominating the cover with occasional punches of white and bright red. There are loads of full-color pages scattered throughout the thick book. In fact, it’s so thick I had to rest it on a table to read the damn thing!
When you open the front cover, you are greeted with a grisly, confusing sight. “Oh, it can’t be too bad,” I reasoned with myself. “It’s just manga!” Oooh, you stupid, stupid boy; not a man till witnessing the atrocities these pages hold… It made me see things that can never be unseen. Terrors that will haunt me forever.
Ito is just so amazing at telling the stories that line these pages. He creates an atmosphere of terror and suspense almost instantly, with that very first page— No, with the inside of the front cover! The illustrations are extremely detailed, but very clean and bound by frames, so it’s simple to tell what’s what.
The main character is Kirie, a normal, high school girl living with her artist father, housewife mother, and little brother. She has a boyfriend, Shuichi, who commutes to school farther away, and is obsessed with leaving their small, odd town. The first chapter sees the spiraling of Suichi’s father into insanity and death, while next part depicts him driving his wife mad, as well.
I’d say the best (read: don’t read!) stories are Jack-in-the-Box, and The Snail, which follow each other in that order. Jack-in-the-Box is about a boy who plays pranks that just go too far, while The Snail is about people literally turning into snails—which sounds a bit more tame than it truthfully is. Shortly after finishing my first read-through of this book, my Nana unwittingly surprised me with a container of snail salad. Yeah; that didn’t get eaten at all. I had totally forgotten about (read: had to block out the trauma of) Mosquitos and The Umbilical Cord, and rediscovered them when I looked back at the book to take some pictures for this post. Those two also follow each other in that order, and take place at a hospital—One of the best locations for horror in my book! These two are a bit difficult to describe without giving away too much information, so I’ll leave it at that.
This book is so completely insane and nightmare-inducing, I will put it on the same level as Whisper
of Death by Christopher Pike, a book that makes me sick when I even think of it—Although I did read it when I was in elementary school, so maybe it’s not as bad as I remember. In conclusion, if you want to be scared out of your mind, I recommend Uzumaki. It seems pricey, but if you were to buy the individual tankouban, it would be just as much or more money.
Finally, I want to talk a little about my all-time favorite author, Edgar Allan Poe. When I was young (probably too young for Poe), I showed an interest and my Nana bought me an edition of his complete works. I can’t read them all every year, but I like to go over some of my favorites.
If you are new to Poe, you should definitely start with the Tell-Tale Heart. It’s just so classic; most junior high schoolers end up reading it as a part of their English or Literature curriculum. It is a nice way to ease into Poe’s awesome world and get a feel for his style of prose. The Fall of the House of Usher is also a good starter, if you want something a bit more intense. That is easily one of my favorites to reread.
The Poe story that gets me every time has to be The Cask of Amontillado. I first read it during that year I discovered Poe, and ooh did I get nightmares! The idea of being buried alive followed me for years; of the fool’s pleading and fear; of the insanity and surety of the killer.
The book I will be spending this Halloween poring over has not yet been mentioned. I just began reading Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. I’ve heard loads of things about the gruesomeness of Koontz, and I’m sure he will live up my expectations. Odd Thomas is billed on the back as a ghost story, of sorts, but I am sure it will be much more. I will let you know once I finish.
What will you be reading for Halloween? Or if you don’t read too much, watching? I’d love ideas for a fun, horrifying evening. I hope it’s everything you could want!