by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)
In anticipation of our annual Spooky Reads episode that will release on Wednesday, I wanted to share some (not-so-spooky) spooky favorites I've enjoyed. Listeners know that I'm not big on reading spooky books, but I do love speculative fiction, fantasy, and the occasional paranormal presence, and I also love seasonal reads. Here are some books that would be perfect seasonal reads for mood readers. These books are atmospheric but not scary. They're all perfect autumn reads, and I've included a wide range of picks to suit different readers' preferences.
Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Amazon | Bookshop.org) - This short book is eerie and has some kind of disturbing scenes, but it's also whimsical and relies on the idea that there are forces at work in the world that are hidden from the average person and that a child who stumbles upon them must find a way through the challenging situation. In this one, a man returns to his childhood home and suddenly remembers a long-suppressed memory that unfurls for the reader. (I've loved everything I've read of Gaiman's work, and any of them would be good October picks!)
Ambelin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina's The Things She's Seen (Amazon | Bookshop.org) - This short YA lit book packs a powerful punch and is such a captivating read. Beth Teller, the protagonist, is a ghost detective determined to help her father, an investigator, who is barely able to function because of the grief he's experiencing after losing her. An unfurling mystery gives Beth focus and purpose and helps her better understand her path. I really enjoyed this one and particularly liked the way that verse was incorporated into parts of the story.
Rachel Griffin's The Nature of Witches (Amazon | Bookshop.org) - In this YA lit story, Clara is an Ever Witch, and she has a special ability to be powerful all four seasons instead of being seasonal like the rest of the witches who can only access their strongest magic during their season. But that special ability comes with a steep price, and because of it, she refuses to embrace her magic. But the world needs her, especially as more and more climate events occur, and she will have to find her way forward in part with the help of Sang, another witch who is a talented botanist with a calming presence. I really enjoyed this one!
Justine Ireland's Dread Nation (Amazon | Bookshop.org) - Historical fiction + zombies? Yes, please. I am not a huge zombie fan (in books, though I'm sure I wouldn't love them in real life, either!), but this YA lit book, set in during the American Civil War era and focusing on an alternate history version where the dead begin rising after the battle at Gettsyburg, resulting in a need for trained protectors. Laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act force teens like the protagonist Jane to become trained combat fighters preparing for a life of fighting against the walkers who won't stay dead. Ireland's setting is unique, and her alternate history setting invites readers to take a close examination of institutionalized racism within real American history. I need to get back to this series!
Nnendi Okorafor's Akata Witch (Amazon | Bookshop.org) - I love Okorafor's work, and Akata Witch is such a great middle-grade read! Sunny is an albino twelve year old living in Aba, Nigeria, and she finds herself doing her best to stay out of the center of attention. But then she discovers the Leopard people, and suddenly her albinism becomes a central part of her new powers. I loved Sunny and her friends and really enjoyed this one, and I want to return to this series. (I'm noticing a trend here of series books I'd like to finish!)
Rainbow Rowell's Pumpkinheads, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks (Amazon | Bookshop.org) - This one is not spooky at all, but this YA lit graphic novel, set on a festive seasonal pumpkin patch and focusing on a couple of the high school workers, is fun and fast, and it's an uplifting story about self-acceptance and young love. Seasonal readers will love the setting, and the illustrations are beautiful!
I'd be remiss here if I didn't mention Shea Ernshaw's work before signing off. Her books, The Wicked Deep and Winterwood, are definitely my go-to picks when it comes to atmospheric works perfect for this spooky autumn season. (Tune in on Wednesday to hear Jen's thoughts about Ernshaw's upcoming book!)
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