In case you’re new to the Pond’s book recommendation posts, the recommendation posts are brought to you by Varian, the Pond’s very own Toadshifter who is knowledgeable in all kinds of magic! One of Varian’s ambitions is to get better at sewing, hence why whenever Varian has come up with their latest costume, they will always recommend a few books that inspired them!
I love the festive spirit of spooky season. There’s something so delightful in living vicariously through those who bring out the pumpkins, put so much effort into spooky-fying their homes, and people who dress up in the coolest Halloween costumes. Here at the Pond, we love celebrating by doing what we love: seizing the opportunity to recommend some awesome books.
In today’s book recommendation post, I’ll be recommending some books that will be perfect for Halloween month. That’s right – we’ve got witches, monsters, ghosts, and vampires books for your spooky season pleasure. Not all the books that I recommend today are spooky and eerie, just in case any of our friends out there love the spooky-adjacent aesthetic but don’t love the tense atmosphere. Spooky or not, all the books that we recommend today are awesome.
Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury
After years of waiting for her Calling—a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers—the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees—and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.
Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy—and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc—how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?
With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything.
CW: If you love witchy stories, then Blood Like Magic is an absolute must-read. I mean, it’s about a Black teen witch who receives a task from her ancestor: destroy her first love or her whole family will lose their magic forever. If you think this sounds awesome, then you’d be absolutely right.
- Liselle’s take on witches is magnificent. The story takes you on a thrilling journey into Voya’s world, where community, family, and power have new meaning.
- I loved the blend of science-fiction elements with witches. The setting was incredibly unique, and the technology and where it will go was creative and fascinating, and the worldbuilding and magic system of witches was so intriguing and, sometimes, terrifying.
- This story has a huge emphasis on family – how families are often messy and dysfunctional and fight, but will ultimately be there for you. More though, it’s also about how knowing our ancestors is power, community and belonging can also be power too.
Tidesong by Wendy Xu
Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy–the best magic school in the realm–even though her magic is shaky at best. To train for her entrance exams, Sophie is sent to relatives she’s never met.
Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan seem more interested in giving Sophie chores than in teaching her magic. Frustrated, Sophie attempts magic on her own, but the spell goes wrong, and she accidentally entangles her magic with the magic of a young water dragon named Lir.
Lir is trapped on land and can’t remember where he came from. Even so, he’s everything Sophie isn’t–beloved by Sophie’s family and skilled at magic. With his help, Sophie might just ace her entrance exams, but that means standing in the way of Lir’s attempts to regain his memories. Sophie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but without Lir’s help, can she prove herself?
CW: Tidesong doesn’t have any spooky vibes, but if we’re talking witches, then Tidesong is one that I absolutely have to recommend! I loved Xu’s take on witches. It releases next month, so definitely add this to your to-read list.
- The story is a slice-of-life Asian-influenced fantasy with so much whimsy, gentleness, and magic. There’s water dragons, water witches, and lore that will inspire wonder in readers of all ages.
- Tidesong is a graphic novel and I loved the art in this. It was gorgeous and such a marvel to behold. The colours are gorgeous and I loved how Wendy’s art captures the magic and wonder of the ocean.
- The relationships in this story was lovely. I also liked that the story depicts the actions of adults and how they can hurt young people, and the story portrays the importance of adults apologising and acknowledging that can be wrong.
Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis
Katrell doesn’t mind talking to the dead; she just wishes it made more money. Clients pay her to talk to their deceased loved ones, but it isn’t enough to support her unemployed mother and Mom’s deadbeat boyfriend-of-the-week. Things get worse, when a ghost warns her to stop the summonings or she’ll “burn everything down.” Katrell is willing to call them on their bluff, though. She has no choice. What do ghosts know about eating peanut butter for dinner?
However, when her next summoning accidentally raises someone from the dead, Katrell realizes that a live body is worth a lot more than a dead apparition. And, warning or not, she has no intention of letting this lucrative new business go.
But magic doesn’t come for free, and soon dark forces are closing in on Katrell. The further she goes, the more she risks the lives of not only herself, but those she loves. Katrell faces a choice: resign herself to poverty, or confront the darkness before it’s too late.
CW: Bad Witch Burning is a book I flew right through. I mean, a story about a Black witch who discovers that she has necromancy powers? And a story that explores poverty, housing insecurity, and how selling her services can help her financially? I loved this book immensely, and this is a must-read Halloween read.
- The story balances so many aspects of Katrell’s life and is definitely an eerie and unsettling read, particularly when as she sinks deeper into her lucrative scheme of raising the dead.
- Housing insecurity, abuse, and trauma – and how this intertwines with Katrell’s powers – are brilliantly and emotionally explored, and readers will not easily forget Katrell’s journey.
- The stakes in this story will keep you reading – it’s an intense, addictive, and heart-wrenching read, and I am in awe of this story’s unique take on witches and poverty.
Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn
We are a people who do not forget.
Survivors from a flooded kingdom struggle alone on an ark. Resources are scant, and ravenous beasts circle. Their fangs are sharp.
Among the refugees is Iraxi: ostracized, despised, and a commoner who refused a prince, she’s pregnant with a child that might be more than human. Her fate may be darker and more powerful than she can imagine.
Zin E. Rocklyn’s extraordinary debut is a lush, gothic fantasy about the prices we pay and the vengeance we seek.
CW: Flowers for the Sea is quite unlike anything I’ve read before, but it’s eerie and haunting atmosphere with eldritch monstrous horrors and rage makes this an incredible read for spooky season.
- The story is a mix of dark fantasy and post-apocalyptic setting with dystopian imagery and atmosphere. The atmosphere in this story is immediately compelling and eerie, the characters on the ark unable to escape.
- It explores maternal rage, dissonance with one’s body during pregnancy, and an unfettered desire for revenge.
- The eldritch horrors that await were terrifying but so fascinating! I felt like I was holding my breath for most of the story.
Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera
Living in the remote town of Tierra del Sol is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert and threaten humankind. But Cecelia Rios has always believed there was more to the criaturas, much to her family’s disapproval. After all, only brujas—humans who capture and control criaturas—consort with the spirits, and brujeria is a terrible crime.
When her older sister, Juana, is kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura, Cece is determined to bring Juana back. To get into Devil’s Alley, though, she’ll have to become a bruja herself—while hiding her quest from her parents, her town, and the other brujas. Thankfully, the legendary criatura Coyote has a soft spot for humans and agrees to help her on her journey.
With him at her side, Cece sets out to reunite her family—and maybe even change what it means to be a bruja along the way.
CW: If you love the idea of criaturas (supernatural beings), mythology and fantasy adventures that sweep you off your feet and take you for a wild and imaginative ride, then this book will hit all the right spots. I loved this and had so much fun.
- I loved how we venture into Cece’s vast world, filled with magic, mystery, darkness, and powers of fire and water. The story is rich with lore, and I enjoyed the Latine influences in the story and mythology.
- It’s a story about unlikely friendships – about a girl who is kind and genuine yet resolute to do the right thing, and makes unlikely friends along the way, and how there is strength and power in understanding one another and forging meaningful connections with others.
- And it’s also a story about family. It does depict parental abuse, which was challenging to read, but I also liked that Cece’s strength, kindness, and goodness shine, and therefore challenging the ways how people have perceived and judged her.
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Space-obsessed 12-year-old Paola Santiago and her two best friends, Emma and Dante, know the rule: Stay away from the river. It’s all they’ve heard since a schoolmate of theirs drowned a year ago. Pao is embarrassed to admit that she has been told to stay away for even longer than that, because her mother is constantly warning her about La Llorona, the wailing ghost woman who wanders the banks of the Gila at night, looking for young people to drag into its murky depths.
Hating her mother’s humiliating superstitions and knowing that she and her friends would never venture into the water, Pao organizes a meet-up to test out her new telescope near the Gila, since it’s the best stargazing spot. But when Emma never arrives and Pao sees a shadowy figure in the reeds, it seems like maybe her mom was right. . . .
Pao has always relied on hard science to make sense of the world, but to find her friend she will have to enter the world of her nightmares, which includes unnatural mist, mind-bending monsters, and relentless spirits controlled by a terrifying force that defies both logic and legend.
CW: The La Llorona folktale gets a fresh spin in this exciting paranormal adventure – and if you are looking for a story that balances creepy vibes and an exciting adventure into another world of nightmares, then you’ll love this.
- Paola is an awesome character; I loved that she rationalised everything, was logical and scientific, and a little bit of a ‘realist’, which conflicted with her mother’s more superstitious view of the world.
- The story is a cool and unique take on La Llorona folklore, that imbues a new life and depth into the story.
- I also really liked that the story candidly explores being poor and racism, and how this can affect young kids and prevent them from seeking help.
NOTHING BUT BLACKENED TEETH BY CASSANDRA KHAW
A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.
It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.
But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.
And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.
Skye: I recently finished this bone-chilling novella just a few nights ago, and friends, let me be the one to tell you that if you love cutting your teeth on Japanese horror, haunted houses, and scary stories infused with queer, modern sensibilities, you are in for a treat.
- The author’s prose is unbelievably decadent. The writing is descriptive, indulgent, and terrifyingly atmospheric without ever being overbearing, and every turn of phrase felt deliberately and meticulously crafted. There was so much perfect imagery that even now I am still reeling a little from the reading experience.
- I also really enjoyed that the book’s fantastical elements were drawn from Japanese folklore! The creepy faceless woman on the cover is called an ohaguro-bettari (who makes a prominent appearance in the book), and there are many references to various yōkai throughout the story.
- In a genre that has a history of villainizing mental illness, it was so refreshing to read a story that acknowledged the reality and lasting effects of mental illness in the everyday lives of people who struggle with it, too.
- Lightning round, this book has: a really messy friendship group who are (mostly) characters of color! a bisexual protagonist! really cool subversions of haunted house/horror tropes, especially with regards to who survives the eerie night…
The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass
Jake Livingston is one of the only Black kids at St. Clair Prep, one of the others being his infinitely more popular older brother. It’s hard enough fitting in but to make matters worse and definitely more complicated, Jake can see the dead. In fact he sees the dead around him all the time. Most are harmless. Stuck in their death loops as they relive their deaths over and over again, they don’t interact often with people. But then Jake meets Sawyer. A troubled teen who shot and killed six kids at a local high school last year before taking his own life. Now a powerful, vengeful ghost, he has plans for his afterlife–plans that include Jake. Suddenly, everything Jake knows about ghosts and the rules to life itself go out the window as Sawyer begins haunting him and bodies turn up in his neighborhood. High school soon becomes a survival game–one Jake is not sure he’s going to win.
CW: If you want something truly suspenseful and eerie, with vengeful ghosts and a Black gay medium who just wants to get on by, then The Taking of Jake Livingston is a great spooky season book choice.
- This story is indeed scary, tight with suspense, and will leave you feeling chilled at times. It brilliantly blends supernatural suspense and horror elements, and, surprisingly, has genuine moments of light and hope.
- At its heart, it’s a story about queer boys who feel deeply misunderstood, like no one in the world really sees them — except they seem to see and understand each other, which is what makes the cat-and-mouse chase so invigorating.
- The supernatural moments will sear into your memory – with terrifying ghostly apparitions, moments of genuine horror and death.
The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl
When Elton Irving turned Holly Liddell into a vampire in 1987, he promised her eternal love. But thirty-four years later, Elton has left her, her hair will be crimped for the rest of immortality, and the only job she can get as a forever-sixteen-year-old is the midnight shift at Taco Bell.
Holly’s afterlife takes an interesting turn when she meets Rose McKay and Ida Ripley. Having also been turned and discarded by Elton—Rose in 1954, and Ida, his ex-fiancée, in 1921—they want to help her, and ask for her help in return.
Rose and Ida are going to kill Elton before he turns another girl. Though Holly is hurt and angry with Elton for tossing her aside, she’s reluctant to kill her ex, until Holly meets Parker Kerr—the new girl Elton has set his sights on—and feels a quick, and nerve-wracking attraction to her.
CW: If you love the idea of three vampire girls who work together to take down the vampire who turned her, then I think you’ll enjoy this as much as I did!
- The premise is simple: a story about revenge and a group of forever-teenage vampires taking down the sexist, asshole vampire who manipulated them, broke their hearts, and turned them into vampires with the promise of eternal love.
- I loved the found family in this – and how the story is about, at the end of it all, people make our existence worthwhile.
- The story is incredibly fast-paced; it wastes no time and dives right into the action, and the story and the characters unfurl slowly from there.
Vampires Never Get Old edited by Zoraida Córdova & Natalie C. Parker
In this delicious new collection, you’ll find stories about lurking vampires of social media, rebellious vampires hungry for more than just blood, eager vampires coming out―and going out for their first kill―and other bold, breathtaking, dangerous, dreamy, eerie, iconic, powerful creatures of the night.
Welcome to the evolution of the vampire―and a revolution on the page.
Vampires Never Get Old includes stories by authors both bestselling and acclaimed, including Samira Ahmed, Dhonielle Clayton, Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker, Tessa Gratton, Heidi Heilig, Julie Murphy, Mark Oshiro, Rebecca Roanhorse, Laura Ruby, Victoria “V. E.” Schwab, and Kayla Whaley.
CW: If you love anthologies, then this is an effortless pick! Vampires Never Get Old has an array of vampire stories, written with different questions in mind and different perspectives. There’s queer vampires, vampires of colour, and disabled vampires in this anthology – definitely a feast for vampire lovers.
- If you love stories with vampire x vampire hunter dynamics and (QUEER!!) romances, then you’ll absolutely want to read this, particularly Senior Year Sucks by Julie Murphy and First Kill by Victoria Schwab.
- And if you like stories that experiment with voice and storytelling, then A Guidebook For The Newly Sired Desi Vampire by Samira Ahmed (my favourite story in the anthology) and Mirrors, Windows & Selfies by Mark Oshiro.
- And if you love stories that subvert tropes and critique oppression, then you’ll love In Kind by Kayla Whaley (a story that tackles ableism and follows a disabled teen-turned-vampire who takes revenge).
The Coldest Touch by Isabel Sterling
lise Beaumont is cursed. With every touch, she experiences exactly how her loved ones will die. And after her brother’s death—a death she predicted but was unable to prevent—Elise is desperate to get rid of her terrible gift, no matter the cost.
Claire Montgomery also has a unique relationship with death, mostly because she’s already dead. Technically, anyway. Claire is a vampire, and she’s been assigned by the Veil to help Elise master her rare Death Oracle powers.
At first, Elise is reluctant to work with a vampire, but when she predicts a teacher’s imminent murder, she’s determined to stop the violent death, even if it means sacrificing her own future to secure Claire’s help.
The trouble is, Claire and Elise aren’t the only paranormals in town—a killer is stalking the streets, and Claire can’t seem to shake the pull she feels toward Elise, a romance that could upend the Veil’s mission. But as Elise and Claire grow closer, Elise begins to wonder—can she really trust someone tasked with securing her loyalty? Someone who could so easily kill her? Someone who might hold the key to unraveling her brother’s mysterious death?
CW: Okay, I’m cheating a little bit because I haven’t read The Coldest Touch yet but – listen: a sapphic vampire/human romance where the vampire has to recruit a girl with the power to see the deaths of whoever she touches? I’m immediately on board. This book releases December 7th 2021 – just around the corner! – so be sure to add this to your to-read lists.