Happy Spooky Season!
Now that we're a few days into the undisputed best month of the year, it's time to talk about books that are on-brand for October. (Since I'm a wuss) I'm talking witchy, ghost-y, vampire-y romances, creepy fantasy, and all the Dark Academia I can get.
Here's what I'm hoping to devour this month.
When Life Gives You Vampires by Gloria Duke
I'm pretty much straight-up cheating with this one, since I already read it, but it WAS on the TBR when I decided to write this blog... so it stays.
(There will likely be a longer review to come, so let me just say that this wasn't a strong start to October.)
Canonically, vampire stories are FILLED with discussions about being "young and beautiful forever," as thought vampirism magically enhances beauty (looking at you, Twilight).
But When Life Gives You Vampires asks... what if you become stuck in a body that you've never liked? Unable to change a single thing about it. Especially when you're now faced with the possibility of spending eons with the hot vampire who accidentally turned you?
I appreciated a lot about how the fat experience was portrayed. Some of the internal thoughts were really relatable. They were thoughts that I've had hundreds of times but haven't really seen in a book before.
Then there were moments where I thought "huh, a fat person would've noticed/thought X,Y,Z."
BUT THEN, what really brought this down was the fat-shaming mother and unhealthy-dieting MC. Perhaps if these issues had been been in the past, and no longer current problems in the active story, I wouldn't have hated it so much. But the plot development from the start to the end felt rushed, unrealistic, and underdeveloped.
Nobody was rooting for the mother (who intentionally buys her daughter clothes that are too small as "inspiration") EXCEPT all the characters who kept making excuses. After listening to the mom fat shame her daughter TO HIM, the main love interest goes, "well, she loves you in her way."
If my mother fat shamed me in front of someone I liked, only for that person to make a stupid, normalizing comment like that?? I'd jump out of his moving car to get away. The risk of dying sounds more palatable than spending any more time with those two.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Do I even need to explain Gideon? I feel like the last sci-fi reader with pro-villain proclivities to read this book. Every time I read the back or see it online, I'm reminded of how unique and fun it sounds, and how much I want to read it.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, Goodreads explains it better than me:
The Emperor needs necromancers.
The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.
Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won't set her free without a service.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon's sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.
Of course, some things are better left dead.
I'm committing to finally reading this in 2022. I'll be shocked if I don't love it; I just have to get myself in the mood for such a large undertaking. Sometimes I don't have the capacity to be emotionally tossed around by fake people on a piece of paper.
Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese
Right now, there is nothing I want more than to love this book. The premise sounds amazing. It checks MULTIPLE boxes on my mental list of favorite things.
Inspired by writers/literature
Pro feminism, pro immigration (social commentary)
If this drops the ball, it'll be cataclysmic. I doubt I'll be able to move on, good or bad. This release date has been on my calendar forever.
Isobel Gamble is a young seamstress carrying generations of secrets when she sets sail from Scotland in the early 1800s with her husband, Edward. An apothecary who has fallen under the spell of opium, his pile of debts have forced them to flee Edinburgh for a fresh start in the New World. But only days after they've arrived in Salem, Edward abruptly joins a departing ship as a medic––leaving Isobel penniless and alone in a strange country, forced to make her way by any means possible.
When she meets a young Nathaniel Hawthorne, the two are instantly drawn to each other: he is a man haunted by his ancestors, who sent innocent women to the gallows––while she is an unusually gifted needleworker, troubled by her own strange talents. As the weeks pass and Edward's safe return grows increasingly unlikely, Nathaniel and Isobel grow closer and closer. Together, they are a muse and a dark storyteller; the enchanter and the enchanted. But which is which?
In this sensuous and hypnotizing tale, a young immigrant woman grapples with our country's complicated past, and learns that America's ideas of freedom and liberty often fall short of their promise. Interwoven with Isobel and Nathaniel's story is a vivid interrogation of who gets to be a "real" American in the first half of the 19th century, a depiction of the early days of the Underground Railroad in New England, and atmospheric interstitials that capture the long history of "unusual" women being accused of witchcraft. Meticulously researched yet evocatively imagined, Hester is a timeless tale of art, ambition, and desire that examines the roots of female creative power and the men who try to shut it down.
I'll be back with a review. I'm hoping this book turns out to be one of my favorites of the year, even though its place on this list is based entirely on fall vibes.
B-Team (AKA books I might check out if I get my shit together and get back on track):
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna
This sounds and feels just like a witchy version of The House in the Cerulean Sea. Like... you mash it with Sabrina the Teenage Witch (the Melissa Joan Hart version) and “voilà!”.
As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don't mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she's used to being alone and she follows the rules...with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.
But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and...Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he's concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.
As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn't the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn't know she was looking for....
This was originally the first book I thought I'd read this season, but it turns out I'm more in the mood for the Dark Academia, spooky occult-ness of Sabrina, the Netflix version, over the cozy-fantasy of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
I hope to come back to this, but it'll get tossed off the list if I find some dark vampire romance (or decide to read another Black Dagger Brotherhood book).
The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith
In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet—her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.
Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.
Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?
I don't have too much to say about this one; it just sounds good. Historical fiction. Murder. It makes me think of the academic, knowledge-seeking murder mystery aesthetic of Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalo mixed with the lighthearted, magic-infused politics and society of Spellbreaker by Charlie N. Holmberg.
Two books I really enjoyed. This will either be middle of the road or an exciting surprise.
A movie-adaptation moment, if I may:
The Vampire Academy has been revived from the ashes of that (terrible) movie and is now a new series on Peacock!
So far so good. I thought I'd be more upset about their "slightly" different Dimitri portrayal, but I'm not mad about it. The actor lost the creepy Russian, possibly-evil, Dracula-hair look, but we've got a more conventionally attractive actor who's fun to watch and good at portraying that tough-guy, stoically a softie thing.
The show is dropping the ball on the romantic build up... but it's the equivalent of a YA novel, so you can't fault it too much.
The diverse cast is definitely a nice upgrade from the book AND the movie. I love the actor who plays Rose. She comes across tough without it being her whole personality (again, unlike the movie).
Peacock is free! Episode release day (Thursday) is getting me through my week.
TBH this list feels lacking. My brain is screaming "Give me vampires or give me death!" Or whatever the undead version of that request is.
I'm on the hunt for vampire villain romances. Something much darker than what When Life Gives You Vampires had to offer. The only thing scary about that one was how it normalized fat-shaming and shoved "you must forgive and forget toxic people" down my throat.
It is Spooky Season after all. Sometimes it's better to cut someone out of your life.