Tricks, Treats and a Roundup of Halloween Nostalgia

Here’s a photo of me looking particularly fiendish in my Freddy Krueger getup

Now that we’re in the thick of the Halloween season, it’s time to dust off those old books that gave me nightmares back when vampires were scary and werewolves were blood-thirsty fiends. Let’s face it, the YA “horror” genre ain’t what it used to be. Sure, glittery vampires and lovelorn ghosts are amusing, but do they give us goosebumps? Eh, not so much. So this year, I’m revisiting some old titles that set those little hairs on the back of my neck on edge when I was a mere sprig of a girl. Here’s a sampling of some of my most favorite Halloweenie reads from the days of yore.

Trick or Treat by Richie Tankersley Cusick

Here’s an oldie but goodie. Back in seventh grade, I clearly remember reading this thing from cover to cover – in between classes, on the school bus, in detention, and under the sheets with a nightlight.  That was the year when I realized that I didn’t have to deal with reality. Thanks to this author, I hit the pause button on junior high life and immersed myself in an alternate world of spooks, haunted houses and dreamy ghost boys. Like all her other novels, Richie Tankersley Cusick uses her tried-and-true formula: Girl moves into a haunted house under tragic circumstances. Girl crushes on cute, mysterious boy. Girl discovers dark secrets about her new home. Girl and boy team up  to conquer evil. Throw in a spooky backyard cemetery and a demonic stalker, and you’ve got yourself a fun little Gothic ghost tale for a dark and stormy night!

Beware by R.L. Stine

How could I leave out R.L. Stine – the great master of YA macabre? I remember that fateful day at the mall bookstore when I begged my dad to buy me this book. Considering my dad’s a total sucker, it didn’t take too much to get him to relent. Oh how I miss those days when I’d spend an afternoon at the mall with my dad eating corndogs and buying books. Come to think of it, whatever happened to mall book stores? Don’t mallrats read anymore? But I digress…this is a fun little compilation of R.L. Stine’s favorite short stories by an impressive assortment of literary greats – from Bram Stoker to Shel Silverstein to Ray Bradbury. My favorite, of course, is Ray Bradbury’s “The Black Ferris,” a spine-tingling story about an evil carnival that “came to town like an October wind, like a dark bat flying over a cold lake, bones rattling in the night, mourning, sighing, whispering up the tents in the dark rain…”

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Remember that kid at the slumber party who insisted on telling scary stories and playing Bloody Mary? I was that girl. Yep, I was to blame for that ubiquitous sissy who cried for her mommy in the middle of the night. I was responsible for the “Mad Molly” nightmares that kept all the girls shivering in their bunks at summer camp. All of those morbid stories were spawned by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Even to this day, I will not show up at a campsite without this trusty collection of dark and spooky tales. Some are silly and downright hokey, but a few stories still chill me to the bone. The story about “Harold,” a demonic scarecrow with a thirst for human blood, always gives me the creeps! But what scares me the most about this book are the morbid illustrations. It’s hard to believe those images of bloody hands and impaled scarecrows would cut it in the children’s section. But hey, I’m not going to complain! I turned out perfectly normal…right?

The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith

Forget the WB show and its complicated plotlines. Seriously guys, after the third season I was so done with the tangled web of ancient legacies, vampire/werewolf hybrids and traitorous vampire hunters. Miss one episode and you’re totally lost. If it wasn’t for the eye candy, I doubt I would have made it past the second season. But don’t fret, you can still get all the enjoyment out of the Vampire Diaries without the whiney younger brother and convoluted subplots by reading L.J. Smith’s trilogy. If you’re looking for an action-packed vampire love triangle with intricate plot threads, you should pick up something more contemporary. But if you’re in the mood for a good old-fashioned vampire love story with lots of teeny angst, give this series a shot.

Short & Sweet Sundays: The Unseen Volume 1: It Begins/Rest In Peace

In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! 

The Gist: (From the publisher) Out walking alone one rainy night, Lucy becomes convinced that someone – or something – is following her. Spooked, she ducks into a cemetery to try and lose her stalker. Panicking in the darkness, she slips and stumbles into an open grave – only to discover she is not alone in there. She manages to escape, but soon begins having terrifying visions and dreams – and she still can’t shake the feeling of an unseen presence, always watching, waiting… Who was the girl in the grave? And what did she do to Lucy?

What I liked: The deliciously spooky atmosphere. Filled with overgrown cemeteries, lurking shadows and sinister stalkers, this book really filled my pumpkin soul with the Halloween spirit! Next to Barbara Michaels, Richie Tankersley Cusick is my go-to author for a good old fashioned gothic ghost story.

Favorite character: The two dark and mysterious boys keep the sparks flying, but of all the characters, my favorite is Lucy’s unlikely sidekick, Dakota Montana. She’s weird, bookish and totally fascinated by all things paranormal. Hmm…come to think of it, she and I have a bit in common! A devout believer in ghostly forces, she’s the only one who can help Lucy ward off the evil forces. Plus her family owns an eclectic used book store/coffee house, so that really adds to her cool factor.

What I need more of: Answers! I need to know what the heck is stalking Lucy and tormenting her dreams at night. Is it a vampire or some sort of demonic incubus?  And what’s the backstory with the hot priest? Seems like there might be something sinister lurking under that good-boy facade. Guess I’ll have to get my hands on the next book to find out!

Gizzy gives this book two paws up!

Why I picked this one up: Richie Tankersley Cusick and I go way back…like to the mid-90s. I haven’t read one of her books since high school, so I figured it was time to revisit one of the authors who helped me escape my teenage angst. Without the Vampire Diaries (the books, not the WB series), R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through that craptastic chapter in my life. Come to think of it…that cute Luke Perry lookalike boy in fifth period English kind of helped.

This book is best pared with: A hot caramel apple cider and a Midnight Syndicate playlist.

Overall: This is the perfect curl-up-at-homer for a blustery night by the fire. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book from start to finish in one day, but the story just sucked me right in! Like chocolate, this book is addictive and it leaves me wanting more. Keep in mind this is young adult, so if you’re looking for a tight-plotted mystery, you may want to grab a Harlan Coben title instead. But if you’re in the mood for a Gothic ghost story loaded with campy atmosphere, give this author a try.