Welcome to my version of Spooky Season, where I read darker books like I do all year round.
After learning more about graphic novels in one of my last college classes ever, I decided to read a series that's been on my radar for almost six years now. The Locke & Key series by Joe Hill has always intrigued me. As a horror series, it appealed to me enough that I wanted to try it. And once I found out that Joe Hill was Stephen King's son, it felt fitting to read both writers' works this month.
So, with ten books on my TBR, I set out for my most ambitious reading month in several years.
Title: The Green Mile
Author: Stephen King
Date Finished: October 6
*TRIGGER WARNINGS* Abuse, homophobia, rape, violent murder, racism, sexual assault, psychological trauma, mental illness, and offensive language.
Opinions: I've never read Stephen King's work before. Horror isn't my thing at all and his books never really appealed to me. But this one felt like something I'd actually be interested in. Originally, this is was going to be a buddy read with a friend, but then I fell behind on the first book and we never tried to get back on track. So this being "Spooky SZN" and all, I thought it was finally time to get this off my TBR.
For someone who has so many highly acclaimed books, I never got the hype. Yes, he's one of the most prolific writers across several generations. But I could never understand it as I was reading this. Nothing about the story, the characters, or writing stood out to me as a marker of talent. That might be sacrilegious among the book community, but really, I don't get it.
I spent most of the book wondering why we spent so much time focusing on characters that ultimately had very little to do with what was supposed to be the central plot of the book - John Coffey's innocence. There's a whole section that's a flashback to someone else's story and it's just 80 pages of stuff we really didn't need to know. I always thought the whole book was about figuring out that Coffey was innocent, but that barely took any time and I figured it out before any of the characters began thinking of what could have actually happened.
What really solidified my dislike of the book is how uncomfortable it made me. The main character - Paul Edgecomb - spends a considerable amount of time talking about his UTI and describing it in great detail. I've never had the desire to read that much about a UTI, but I have some very vivid imagery of how a man is supposed to pee during this painful time.
Adding in all the unnecessary sexual content, I just wasn't having it. Paul's wife serves as nothing more than a body for him to have sex with at different times. And each time sex happens, it's written in such a weird and uncomfortable way. I'd rather not have a vagina described as "sweetness," thank you very much. Actually, there's a ton of inappropriate sexual stuff littered throughout the book. Paul compares a dramatic acting of electrocution to be like that of a man having a powerful orgasm, which just made me so mad and uncomfortable at the same time. Inmates and jailers regularly talk about masturbation in crude ways, even going so far as to describe one inmate's preparation for this part of his evening routine. And to give you a final idea of how dumb and inappropriate all this is, there's literally a scene where Paul returns from a very emotionally draining night and the first thing his wife does is say hello to Little Paul and bring him to the bedroom for sex. What good that does, I have absolutely no idea.
Everything that was supposed to make me uncomfortable didn't. I have a pretty good understanding of how the prison system works and the culture within the grey walls. Descriptions of the inside and how living conditions were didn't horrify me. What ultimately horrified me was how awful every single person was. I thoroughly disliked every one of the characters in the prison system because they were solely stereotypes of jailers and prisoners. All one-dimensional and problematic in so many ways.
I nearly fell asleep at so many points in this book, it was so hard to convince myself to push through. In the end, I did because I wanted to know if I was right about the plot twist. And I was. Which I had guessed pretty early into the book, so that just disappointed me even more. The book could easily have been 200 pages shorter and been far more interesting.
I'm happy to never pick up another of his fiction books in the future. I have On Writing, his memoir about writing craft and his own experiences, but that's the last book of his that I'll ever read. His writing and storytelling just don't live up to the hype for me and I will never get why he's such a highly acclaimed author.
Title: The Amazing Book is Not On Fire
Author: Dan Howell & Phil Lester
Date Finished: October 9
Opinions: I've always loved this book, and over the years, it's become a comfort thing for me. The hardcover sits on my nightstand and I keep the audiobook on Audible in case I can't fall asleep and podcasts aren't working. More often than not, I don't list it as a re-read on Goodreads because I fall asleep halfway and don't listen to the rest, but this time, I decided to actually listen through it again.
Though it wasn't originally on my TBR for the month, I'm really glad I listened to it again. After The Green Mile, I really needed something that would pick me back up and make me happier again. It was also while I was waiting for The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue to arrive, so I really didn't have anything planned because I thought I would get Addie on release day.
Anyways, I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time and every time after that. The book doesn't really have much rhyme or reason to it. It's just a jumble of their videos, more insight into their lives, and random things they felt like throwing in. I love it though. It's basically like listening to one of their videos and it never fails to make me happy.
Honestly, I think the book makes me happy because it's a reminder of how much their videos impacted me during my late high school and early college years. Between their individual channels and their gaming channel, they've delivered a lot of content that got me through some rough patches. Very recently, I've gotten back into watching their old content, so listening to the audiobook again felt fitting.
Objectively, it's not the best thing out there. The book is very niche to people within the Phandom as it's filled with jokes that mostly make sense if you've watched their content. But subjectively, it's one of my favorite books out there and I will always love it.
Title: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Author: V.E. Schwab
Date Finished: October 23
Opinions: I have no idea how to begin talking about this book. I put off writing out my thoughts because I hoped I would find the right words to express this feeling. But I'm not sure that I will ever be able to explain what reading this book was like or what it means to me, so I will have to settle for whatever I come up with here.
This has been my most anticipated book of the year ever since it was announced. I've heard V.E. Schwab talk about this ever since I started following her on Twitter. It's the book she's been trying to write since she really began writing, and for that reason, I've always known it would be special. Now, the trouble with books like that is the fear of the hype. Fear that it won't live up to it or that after all the build up, it's just not what you expected. But obviously, Schwab hasn't done me any wrong yet and I doubt she ever will. A part of me nearly gave this seven stars to honor the freckles on Addie's cheek, but I think I'll stick with a traditional rating here.
I loved every moment of reading this. From the first page to the last, it had my attention. I couldn't wait to see what would unfold in each chapter and how everything would slowly come together. It was a truly beautiful experience to slowly make my way through the book, taking in every word and sentence. I wanted to savor everything because I know how hard Schwab has worked on this. I wanted to enjoy and cherish every line because, in many ways, this has become a book I will hold very closely to my heart.
The writing is gorgeous. It's unlike her previous works in so many ways. Though her writing is gorgeous across all her other works, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue truly stands apart because of how lyrical and poetic it is. The way the words are strung together here are so filled with careful thought and intention. Every word is so purposefully chosen for the story, making it a wonderful experience as you're reading. The pacing is incredible, especially when you consider that it's told from two timelines that will eventually catch up to each other. Schwab's writing really allows for the timelines to shine and pieces of connection to thread together, and everything blends together perfectly.
Another reason why I love this is because of the exploration of the characters. In many ways, I see glimpses of myself in Addie. The outlook she has on life and the way she constantly wants to experience different parts of the world, it's something I relate to greatly. The desire for something new to learn and see, it's something I often feel. And at the end of the day, one of her biggest struggles is one of my biggest fears - never being able to make a mark on the world. I don't want to go super in depth about that now because I think that deserves its own blog post, but I really found myself connecting with Addie throughout the book and understanding why she made her decisions.
As for Henry, I loved him so much. He's the kind of person I think the world overlooks because he doesn't fit into any of the categories we really have for people. He's not the kind of person most people would be able to handle or have in their life. But I really felt for him and loved getting to see pieces of his story as the book unfolded. The fact that he works in a bookstore makes him even better.
A small thing I appreciated was the subtle tackle of religion. A famous line from this book is "Never pray to the gods that answer after dark." Though small and simple, it holds the weight of what we think gods to be, and the book explores a decent amount of that as it tells Addie's story. Her struggles during her early years between the old gods she's heard about and the new ones her parents believe in is entirely understandable. And in small ways, I agree with the criticisms it has on the new gods that have locked church doors and requirements for what their parishioners look like. As a Christian myself, I thought it explored the concept with good balance, though not everyone will agree with me.
I'll say this here and continue to say it across all my social media platforms - I don't think this is the Schwab book to start with. If you've never read her work, I think you might find it hard to transition to her other books if you start with The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. Don't get me wrong, all of her work is equally beautiful, but this is unlike any other book she's written, and I don't know if she'll ever write another one like this. I think your expectations might be set too high if you start with this, especially when it comes to the writing. So while I think this is a book everyone should read, I also think they should start with something else before picking this one up.
Title: Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft
Author: Joe Hill
Genre: Horror graphic novel
Date Finished: October 28
*TRIGGER WARNINGS* Assault, rape, murder, suicide, PTSD, alcoholism, hints of mental illness.
Opinions: I first heard about this back in high school. I think it was close to when the last volume came out, and I was intrigued by the story of children finding keys to other dimensions through graphic novel format. And after years, it remained a series I really wanted to read. Since it was Spooky Month, I decided to get these from my local library and give them a shot to see what I thought after years of wanting to read them.
If you've followed my reading vlogs this month, you'll know that I hit a little bump in this plan. Basically, there are so many people placing holds on books that need to be transported between libraries, they don't have enough drivers to transport the books. And since each book needs a short quarantine period when it arrives, it took almost all month for this guy to arrive. I'm still waiting on Volumes 2 & 5, which is the only reason I didn't binge through the rest of the series this month. Oh, and my library copy was unfortunately missing the first 32 pages, so I had to do some online searching until I found them.
Anyways, my thoughts. Firstly, I love the art style. It's not something I've come across very often in the few graphic novels I've read or the slightly larger circle of WebToons I've read. I'm a huge fan of using one color scheme in art to emphasize tone or setting or situation, and this is one of those instances. Everything is muted except for reds and blues. It makes for fantastic contrast and I greatly enjoying seeing how the art and the story text worked together to tell the greater story.
You might be able to tell from the trigger warnings that this definitely isn't a happy book. It fits into the horror genre pretty well, though I can't say I've been entirely scared by this yet. Maybe further into the series. The darker elements of the book are well planned and spaced out. It doesn't feel like Hill is trying to mash all the gruesome and creepy stuff into a short space, but rather, he lets it take its time and flow throughout the story. These pieces felt realistic and natural, contrasting my feelings for how The Green Mile handled similar subjects.
I appreciated that the children in the story weren't being treated like they couldn't understand what murder was and that none of the adults acted like they were super fragile. Yes, it was traumatic to witness their father's death, but each of them is being challenged to grow in new ways because of that. The story doesn't shy away from letting bad things happen to children, but it also doesn't make them weak in any sense. It's realistic in showing how teens and children might deal with trauma and an alcoholic parent, which I think more books should be doing.
This first volume somewhat touches on the family dynamic. We get glimpses of how the siblings interact with each other and their parents, before and after their father's death. The one that stood out to me the most was Kinsey's relationship with her mother. As the only girl among three children and being the middle child, I was surprised by how closed she appeared to be with her mom. Usually, the female relationships are neglected, but I thought Kinsey had the most development in terms of relationships. She had her mother, whom she seemed close with despite the disapproval of the drinking; her track coach, who encouraged not to focus on what other students thought; and her track team mate, who offered to run with her on weekend mornings so they could train together. And honestly, I'm kind of glad she got the relationship focus in this first volume. I hope it continues as the series goes on.
Bode and Tyler's relationship felt a little rougher to me. Obviously, they're at least six to eight years apart, so that makes for a pretty big age gap between the boys. And the fact that Tyler clearly has issues that Bode isn't old enough to understand yet just makes the dynamic favor Bode. I felt for the boy as he tried to bond with his older siblings, and it's ultimately Kinsey who begins reciprocating that first. What I really hope to see in future volumes is Tyler's development and confrontation of his issues and his grief. Among the three, it's really Kinsey who shows a desire to care for her brothers in her own way, and I like that the female lead is the strong one here. I'm also interested in seeing how Bode grows and develops because he's the youngest and currently the most connected to all the supernatural stuff happening in his home.
Whenever Volumes 2 & 5 decide to show up, I'll happily dive back into the series to see how it continues.
Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Genre: Magical realism
Date Finished: October 31
Opinions: I started the first four pages while waiting for The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue to arrive, but then I put it down once the book arrived. And because it was only a few pages, I just restarted them when I got back to this on my TBR.
This is one of those books I think you should go into as blindly as possible. I knew practically nothing about it, just that there's a circus that appears at night and disappears at dawn. And that's one of the reasons why I enjoyed getting into the story so much.
The concept of a circus that appears and opens in the evening and closes at dawn is super intriguing to me. Were this real, I would probably love it and spend a ton of time there. All the descriptions of the circus and the tents and performances will stick with me for many years, as it's all so vivid and beautiful. I could feel the atmosphere of the book and how that changed from chapter to chapter depending on the location. That's one thing I think the book excels in that I haven't heard many other people talk about - being atmospheric. It's one thing to be able to picture the setting of the book, it's another to be able to feel the setting and story. And I think Erin Morgenstern does a fantastic job of describing what it's like to be at the circus and be away from it.
The cast of character was fun to read from. I greatly enjoyed Celia's chapters as she grew older and really grew into her identity. It was intriguing to see what kind of woman she decided to become and how she slowly changed over the course of the story. At her core, she's strong and caring, but there are so many more facets to her and that made it interesting to read from her perspective. Marco wasn't my favorite when he was introduced, but I grew to like him as the book went on more. I think it's just the way he carries himself that I'm not always the biggest fan of, but I did enjoy seeing how he contrasted Celia in so many different ways. But, I think the character I enjoyed reading from the most was Bailey, who I relate to the most simply because of his pure awe for the circus and how he feels drawn to it. Seeing the circus through his eyes really allowed me to experience the vast creativity that was poured into the environment and the performances. I don't think I could have experienced it the same way if not for him.
It's really hard to talk about this book without giving away too much, because I truly think that discovering the main plot as you read is one of the most fun things. Not knowing puts you in a similar position to Celia and Marco, and it allows you to experience the story differently than if you were to know more. Just take my word for it and pick up this book. I promise you won't be disappointed.
Honestly, if it weren't for The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, this would be my favorite book of the year. It captured my attention so thoroughly and I flew through this book with so much ease. I can see why so many people love and recommend it, and I think it's one that more people should pick up. Morgenstern hasn't written many books, but she's well-known for the ones she has published. I really want to pick up her other book, The Starless Sea, to read more of her beautiful writing and have another stunning cover to add to my collection.
Even though I didn't end up hitting my goal because my TBR plans were totally skewed by the Locke & Key series not arriving together or on time, I did really enjoy the selection of books I read. The month started out rocky, but it ended beautifully and I'm glad to have new favorites to add to my list.
Having hit my Goodreads goal last month and pushed myself to rethink my perspective on the challenge in general, I don't feel much pressure to read a ton. Five book is a really good wrap-up when one of them is an old favorite and two are new favorites. What made me happy was finding stories I wanted to pick up and lose myself in. So by that measure, this month was a big success.