Find it at your library!

It’s October—time to scare the pants off ourselves!

I have been planning my creepy fall reading list for several weeks now. As soon as the daytime temperatures start flirting with the 60s (even if they boing back up like they’re attached to a bungee cord a few days later), it’s like an alarm goes off in my head. For some people, that alarm signals pumpkin spice time, but for me it means I start inhaling all the scary shit I can get my hands on.

First up: The Devil in Silver. I have wanted to read Victor LaValle for a long time now, but as someone who is A) squeamish about gore and violence, and B) liable to spiral into depression if the subject matter gets TOO dark, I couldn’t quite get up the nerve to dip my toe in the water. His most recent novel, The Changeling, made a huge splash when it came out in June, but after reading the synopsis and trigger warning-laden reviews, I knew I couldn’t hang. But I refused to be denied entry into the Victor LaValle fan club, so I delved into his back catalog to see if there was something for a reader like me. As soon as I saw the comparisons to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I knew The Devil in Silver was the one.

The comparisons make sense, even though LaValle’s characters themselves talk about the Kesey novel and disdain it (I’ll let you read the book to find out why). LaValle’s novel takes place in a psychiatric wing of a hospital and centers around a new admit who doesn’t fit in and stirs things up among the other patients. Pepper, in many ways the quintessential blue-collar man’s man, is brought to the hospital by cops who know he isn’t in need of mental health services, but due to some bureaucratic nonsense, it’s easier for them to drop him off there and end their long shifts rather than take him to booking. The assumption is that Pepper will be evaluated, found to be cognitively normal, and released after 72 hours, but LaValle shows that being on the ward is enough to make even a sane person crazy, whether he started that way or not.

It doesn’t bode well for Pepper’s odds of getting released that a monster stalks the ward at night. He’s seen it, and even though he doesn’t want to get too close to anyone inside—after all, he’s not one of them—he’s pretty sure some of the other patients know what the thing is. The staff, when questioned, pretend they don’t know what he’s talking about, and an entire hallway with a reinforced door at the end is off-limits to patients. Whatever’s down that hall, it isn’t friendly.

This story starts out pretty creepy with all the talk of monsters and the not-knowing what’s on the loose at night, but midway it takes a turn and becomes scary in an entirely different, more existential way. Turns out, exhausted and disillusioned medical professionals are actually a whole lot scarier than things that go bump in the night.

I’m glad I can now legitimately count myself one of LaValle’s fans. If you too are in the market for reads befitting this spooky season, I’ll be posting my creepy fall reads all month long! See the CreepyFallReads tag, or you can see my favorite creepy books from the past under the DeliciouslyCreepy tag.

Find it at your library!

The Ballroom was such a wonderful surprise to me! A love story set in an early 1900s insane asylum? Whaaaaaaat? Bring some of that noise over here, baby!

I had never heard of British author Anna Hope, but that was to my detriment because she clearly knows what she's about. Her novel follows three main characters within the Yorkshire asylum: Ella and John, who are patients (or would “inmates” be a more apt term?), and Charles, a doctor with a burgeoning interest in eugenics.

(Can I take a minute here to admit that I know literally nothing about geography outside the US? I just had to Google “where is yorkshire” to make sure it wasn't in Ireland. Sometimes I worry I'm part of the problem.)

Ella and John are decidedly less than crazy, as so many people relegated to institutions were in the not-too-distant past. Refusing to comply with social norms could be enough to label a person mentally unfit, and asylums like the one Hope imagines weren't concerned with rehabilitation so much as punishment, coercion, and containment. Despite their confinement and dreary surroundings, from the time they first meet Ella and John are drawn to each other. But escape seems all but impossible, especially with the doctor-with-major-emotional-baggage throwing up roadblocks in increasingly devious ways.

The Ballroom is one of those books that gets better with each passing page. As I was reading, I kept thinking, Wow, this is really good. Then I got to the final chapter and started blinking really fast (there was something in my eye, I swear!) and thought, No, this is better than good. Highly recommended.

*Full disclosure, if you're a reader in the US and you go to buy this book, you won't find the cover pictured here. I used what I think is the UK cover in the link because, frankly, the US cover is so tragically butt-ugly I didn't think anyone would believe my glowing review were they to appear together. If you don't believe me, here. Told you.

With regards to Random House and NetGalley for the review copy. On sale now!