Ghosts, Shapeshifters, and Vampires, Oh My!
by Little Willow
Trick or treat: Which do you prefer? I’ll take a treat myself. If you’re looking for a spooky story to read on Halloween, you’ve come to the right place, because all of the following books are definitely treats. Get ready to sink your teeth into these spooky supernatural stories.A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb
offers a new take on the concept of ghosts and haunting. It will certainly appeal to those who like a ghostly romance, and I recommend it to both teens and adults who appreciate an intriguing ghost story rather than a super scary one – though I like those, too, and I’ll talk about some creepier books later! For now, let’s focus on the Light that Whitcomb has offered up: For over a hundred years, Helen has been a ghost with no way to communicate with the living. She can see people, but they can’t see her – until one day, when someone looks right at her. He’s a teenager, alive and well, and he wants to know her. The more they talk, the more is revealed about Helen’s past, as she struggles to remember her life. With beautiful writing and wonderful, intriguing mysteries – How did Helen die? Why can James see her? – A Certain Slant of Light is truly memorable.
If that sounds appealing, you should also read The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R.A. Dick, another ghostly romance. This pair is even more unlikely: The Ghost is a gruff sea captain who loves blood, gore, and swashbuckling, while Mrs. Muir is a prim and proper woman, a widow who moves her family into the Captain’s old house. She discovers his portrait before meeting his ghost. She is at first scared by him, then offended by his fondness for violence and roughness. However, the more she encounters him, the more she is drawn to him. As he tells her stories about his adventures and his life on the sea, she writes them down and types them up. While working on the book, she keeps the secret about the ghost and their romance from the public and from her kids. This book inspired a classic black-and-white film as well as a TV show. The film is surprisingly similar to the book; other than removing one of the children, it’s actually pretty accurate. It should be noted that the book was written by a woman named Josephine Leslie, but she had to (or chose to) use a pseudonym in order to get her story published. I wonder what Captain Gregg and Lucy Muir would think about that…
Most of the action in the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray takes place at an all-girls boarding school in Victorian England. However, the first book, A Great and Terrible Beauty, begins in India. It is there that Gemma lives, though she is English and has always wanted to travel to her homeland. At the age of 16, she gets her wish when tragedy strikes: Shortly after fighting with her mother while at a street bazaar, Gemma is struck with a vision – which she’s never had before – and her mother is struck down. Is it suicide or murder? Before she can investigate the circumstances of her mother’s death, Gemma is sent off to school and must adjust not only to life on campus but to life with her new power, which is unwelcomed, untrained, and seemingly uncontrollable. She soon befriends three girls, Felicity, Ann, and Pippa, each of which has her own secrets and abilities. The group finds a diary from a long-gone student and learns about past events at Spence which may have been tinted with magic and mayhem. This trilogy is incredibly impressive and engrossing. Bray’s writing is as gorgeous as the covers of the books. Read the books in order: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing.
When the mortal Bella met the immortal Edward, romantics around the world were drawn to their story. Love it or not, there’s no denying the popularity of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. It has vampires, werewolves, drama, and romance, with a definite emphasis on the star-crossed romance. In fact, when compared to other vampire stories, it’s actually fairly light on gore and violence. Read the books in their proper order: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. I actually recommend Wuthering Heights instead, but that's another story.
Carrie Jones’ first supernatural story, Need, follows three memorable contemporary dramas, including Tips on Having a Gay (Ex-) Boyfriend. Though this book does not connect to any of her previous efforts, if it were to follow imitate that title format, it may be called Tips on Having a Shapeshifter Boyfriend . . . but I don’t want to give too much away. In Need, a teenaged girl named Zara (pronounced like Sara with a Z) moves to Maine to live with her grandmother after losing her stepfather, who raised her as if she were his own. Zara’s phobias and grief are very real – and soon she learns that dark faeries, werewolves, and other partially-human characters are real as well. While the fantasy genre is a departure for Jones, her writing style is just as enjoyable and recognizable. I like the fact that her protagonists tend to be active in their communities and support good causes, such as Amnesty International, even if these projects aren’t a main part of the story. The story of Need continues in the sequel, Captivate, coming out in January 2010.
Want another girl-meets-(inhuman)-boy story? Try books by Holly Black, such as Tithe, or by Melissa Marr, like Wicked Lovely. You’ll never look at faeries the same way again.
What do you do when your girlfriend grows fangs? Check out Peeps by Scott Westerfield
. This dark comedy is a nice counterbalance to Twilight. This isn’t your typical vampire story – It’s better. A young man named Cal moves from Texas to New York, falls for a seemingly nice girl, then discovers that she’s a vampire – and their relationship has infected him. Really. Vampirism is a disease, and now Cal’s carrying the parasite. This book has snark, science, rats, cats, and more. Peeps is well-written and well-researched, with really cool sub-chapters that detail real parasites and diseases. Knowing those things are real will make you squirm! Peeps has a companion book (not a direct sequel) called The Last Days that’s less about cowboys and vampires and more about rock music and the apocalypse.
I highly recommend a highly underrated series: Prowlers by Christopher Golden
. This quartet of novels rocks, simply put. This is urban fantasy, urban horror. I cannot think of a better shapeshifter story. After going on a double date with his best friend Artie, nineteen-year-old Jack comes home to the place he has shared with his older sister Courtney ever since a car accident that crippled Courtney and killed their mother. The next day, he learns that Artie has been killed. The police say it was a freak attack by wolves, the sort of thing that never happens, the sort of thing which will never happen again. Then Artie appears to Jack as a ghost and tells him about Prowlers, creatures that look human but are really shapeshifters that look more like giant dogs or wolves. Unlike werewolves, who need a full moon, Prowlers can shapeshift at any time - and they do. Jack, Courtney, their friend Bill and Artie’s girlfriend Molly must take matters into their own hands and believe the unbelievable. These books have fully developed characters; even the villains have backstories, connections, and relationships. Throughout the series – Prowlers, Laws of Nature, Predator and Prey, and Wild Things - Molly and Jack grow close, but because Artie has sworn Jack to secrecy about his ghostly appearance, this creates a love triangle. Best of all are the action sequences, which pretty much leap off of the page. I wish these books came in a boxed set!
If you like Prowlers, don’t forget to check out Soulless, a zombie story not for the faint of heart, also by Christopher Golden. Zombies are a Halloween staple, and Soulless is, without a doubt the best zombie story I've ever read. Read my review and learn more about Soulless.
Halloween comes but once a year. Remember to be safe and have fun!This piece was originally published at the SparkNotes website in October 2008. Please do not reprint this article without my permission. Thank you.