mini reviews: Halloween Edition

October 30, 2013 2013, carol goodman, Gothic, horror, jeff hart, robin wasserman, Wendy 52

Today’s mini reviews are for some recently released books that would make great Halloween reads. I am always on the lookout for really good horror YA no matter what time of year it is, but these are especially fun for October!

Title: The Waking Dark 
Author: Robin Wasserman
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Release Date: September 10th, 2013
Publisher: Knopf BFYR
Age Group: YA
Source: finished copy provided by the publisher

Why did five seemingly normal people kill their friends and neighbors? This intense, riveting novel captivated me from the very first chapter, when the murders begin almost immediately. The rest of the book unravels the mystery of why these ordinary citizens turned, and the story is bloody, violent, and suspenseful–but there’s an added complexity with moments of genuine sadness. With no more than a handful of succinct sentences, the author is able to make you feel connected in her characters in a way that is both exciting and poignant, because you can be sure that no one is safe from the danger lurking beneath this quiet town.

This is one of the few instances when the book lives up to the comparison to Stephen King, in terms of both an imaginative plot and strongly compelling characters. While the second half of the book didn’t offer quite as many surprises as the first half did, The Waking Dark is still crazy good. Strongly recommended to thriller fans, and with the fervent hope that this author writes more horror in the future.

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Title: Eat, Brains, Love 
Author: Jeff Hart
3 out of 5 stars
Release Date:
October 1, 2013
Publisher: HarperTeen
Age Group: YA
Source: ARC provided by the publisher

Jake is having a pretty bad day. Before he even knows what hit him, he and his crush Amanda have somehow turned into zombies and eaten a large portion of their classmates. In the cafeteria. How awkward!

Eat, Brains, Love is actually pretty hilarious. I liked the narrative voice and Jake’s sarcastic one-liners, and the idea of the story is just so much fun. I wasn’t nearly as interested in the alternating chapters from the POV of Cass, however, who is a teenage psychic who’s helping the government to hunt them. I think the plot would have been much more focused and funny if Cass’ chapters (and the ragtag band of forgettable secondary characters in her orbit) had been skipped, since Jake is a much more engaging character.

The voice is also so bubbly at times that it almost felt like it was written for younger teens or even middle grade, except that there are horror and sexual scenarios that definitely make the book YA. Despite its uneven tone and plot, I like the writing style enough that I’d still like to try out another book by this author down the road, however.

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Title: Blythewood  
Carol Goodman
4.5 out of 5 stars
Release Date:
October 8th, 2013
Viking Juvenile
Age Group: YA
Source: ARC provided by the publisher

This isn’t a typical horror novel, but it has a very gothic tone, along with a chilling atmosphere of tension and suspense.  After a devastating fire, during which she saw visions she could not explain, Avaline has arrived at Blythewood Academy, where the girls are all being trained for some mysterious purpose in the early 1900s. She hears bells chiming in her head and sees people turn into crows, and then there are disappearing girls and the memory of a mysterious winged boy that she surely must have imagined. What dark secrets is the school hiding? And will they help her solve the mystery of her mother’s death?

This story goes places that I didn’t expect, which is something I very much enjoyed. Part of me wants readers to discover those lovely revelations for thelmselves, and it’s true that you’ll find some spoilers in the way the book is shelved on GoodReads. But I’ll simply say that the book is an enticing blend of suspenseful gothic mystery, historical fiction, romance, and fantasy, and I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy any one of those genres. I also love the way a significant historical event is worked into the story near the end, as well as the way a forbidden romance gradually unfurls. It’s delicious when the simple act of simply putting your hand on a boy’s back can be infused with so much latent feeling.

Blythewood is bursting with details that I love, including: tea and Victoria sponge cakes; the troubled son of the headmistress; dungeons; a boarding school setting; mythical creatures; a spy in the house; books; sealing wax; exciting action sequences; and so many other lovely things that call out to me. I would say that the book might have tried to contain so many fantastic details and scenes that some of them may not have been as fully realized (or prolonged) as much as I would have liked. But this doesn’t change the fact that I found this book to be thoroughly engrossing and a superbly realized romantic gothic fantasy. Who knew such a book was even possible?

Cannot wait for the other two books in the series. Consider me ready to zoom through all of her adult novels, too.

Advance copies were provided by the respective publishers for each review.


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More Horror Novels

PS–join us tomorrow, when The Midnight Garden girls share their favorite creepy reads! We’ll be featuring more horror novels for your reading pleasure.

Wendy signature teal





52 Responses to “mini reviews: Halloween Edition”

  1. celes cao

    I really like the mini reviews because they let us know your opinion about the books in a nutshell .. look very interesting .. the’ll have in mind :) (sorry for my English is not very good)

  2. Amber

    Loved reading this post! Although Halloween has now past, I love reading creepy things all month to get into the spirit. I will have to check out Eat, Brains, Love. I read Game by Barry Lyga and loved it!

    • Wendy Darling

      Pish, who needs October?! We can read horror any old time. ;) I really like the IHK series, too–can’t wait until book three!

  3. Kate Bond

    I want to read Blythewood so, so badly, but I have piles and piles of books-over 100 novels–that I’ve purchased but not read yet. So it’ll have to be one of those that I get to eventually if I remember. Such a bummer.

    • Wendy Darling

      Ohh, I would love to hear what you think of it! Lauren read it right after she read my review and ended up enjoying it, too. (I’m terrible, I haven’t had the time to respond to her extremely thoughtful comments/speculation on my GR thread yet)

      Its a lovely book, and I hope it finds an audience.

  4. Kay

    I thought Eat Brains Love was hilarious and I actually really enjoyed both POVs but I can see where you are coming from that the writing sometimes reminded you of a younger audience. I have yet to read The Walking Dark but I did just get it from the library!

    • Wendy Darling

      It totally was hilarious–I really, really enjoyed his POV, but yeah, I’m afraid I was just impatient to get back to his when she was speaking. :P

      I hope you like Waking Dark, Kay–it’s pretty intense.

  5. Neyra

    I love thrillers! Definitely adding these babies up (: it’s so hard for me to find the time for them when I have other reviews, but I am looking forward to them. Thanks Wendy ! :D

    • Wendy Darling

      So do I! Good YA thrillers are so hard to find, too.

      And yeah, I hear you on trying to find time for non-review books, too. Inevitably, the pleasure reading books rarely get reviewed anymore.

  6. Nikki Vanderhoof

    I love it when I get super excited to add a book you’ve reviewed to my Goodreads list and when I get on there, I’ve already added it! Great minds think alike Wendy ;)

  7. Miss Page-Turner

    Oh my, The Waking Dark sounds SO good! I’ve read about it a few weeks ago and then totally forgot to purchase a copy. It would’ve been the perfect Halloween read!

  8. Rachel @ Unforgettable Books

    Terrific reviews Wendy! Thrillers are my absolute favorite genre, the perfect blend of contemporary and mystery. That’s wonderful that short sentences got you to like the book and it lives up to its KIng comparison.

    Yay to funny characters, if only it was more even and went to the best character’s view. Perfect reading time so close.

    Must find Blythwood. I love it when so many genres are used and this fragment from you review, “romance gradually unfurls”

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, are they?! I didn’t know that, Rachel. I read a lot more adult thrillers than YA thrillers, mostly because I find a lot of the latter are too easy to predict, or the plotting just isn’t as tight as it should be. So it’s always a pleasure to find good ones.

      I love funny YA books, too. I wish we saw more of them.

  9. Melliane

    Oh I didn’t know these ones, but it’s always nice to see mini reviews like that. I’m curious about the last one, the cover is cute.

  10. Jasprit

    I think The Waking Dark and Blythewood would definitely be books that I would enjoy. I loved Wasserman’s The Book of Blood & Shadow, so I’m thrilled to see her try something different with The Waking Dark. Also the reviews for this book have been excellent so far, I think I may have to start my copy tonight (maybe with the light on). And how awesome does Blythewood sound?I love it when a book surprises you with all the different things it has to offer. I’m definitely going to check out more reviews on this one! Great reviews Wendy, I look forward to reading more of your recommendations in today’s post!

    • Wendy Darling

      I still need to read THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW! (What an awesome name.) I remember how much you enjoyed the book, but for some reason I still haven’t gotten around to it. Her writing in WAKING DARK was fantastic, though, so I’ll definitely have to read her otehrs.

      I hope you enjoy BLYTHEWOOD, too. It was a lovely surprise.

  11. Melanie

    Lovely reviews, Wendy! I especially cannot wait to read The Waking Dark and Blythewood. They sound great.

    • Wendy Darling

      Thank you, darling! I hope you love both those books when you get to them–they are definitely among my favorites for the year.

    • Wendy Darling

      That’s one of the hallmarks of a good book–if you know how the story will end, but it’s still enjoyable anyway! Applies especially for books that you intend to reread. Glad you enjoyed it too, Jen.

  12. readingdate

    Yay for Halloween features! I’m happy to see Blythewood on your list. I’m going to listen to the audio of that one. And ooh The Waking Dark compared to Stephen King! Color me intrigued.
    I’ll stop by for more horror halloween fun tomorrow!

    • Wendy Darling

      Yes! It’s been so fun reading everyone’s Halloween shenanigans. :D

      I am really excited that you’re going to listen to BLYTHEWOOD–with the right narrator, it would be awesome. And YES, give WD a try, too! I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it, Lucy.

  13. Carina Olsen

    Ohh, amazing reviews Wendy :D I cannot wait to read my copy of The Waking Dark. <3 Excited to read it. Glad you enjoyed it a lot :D Thank you for sharing. <3

  14. Keertana

    Blythewood didn’t attract me from its cover, but the fact that it spans so many genres and has a deliciously gothic field has sold me on it for sure. Also, Wasserman’s latest sounds like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, only with five murders instead of one, so I’m curious to check that one out now. Wonderful mini-reviews, Wendy – concise, convincing, and beautifully written!

    • Wendy Darling

      Hey, I was just over at your blog reading your CIY review! Hee.

      I think you might like Blythewood, Keertana–it surprised me in the best of ways. And hah, trust you to bring up C&P in reference to Waking Dark!

  15. Mary @ BookSwarm

    How have I not heard of Blythewood?!? It sounds right up my alley with the gothic vibe and deliciously dark paths (that line made me perk right up!). I KNOW I need to read the other two, esp. Waking Dark, which I’ve heard nothing but good things about!

    • Wendy Darling

      I know, right? I feel like BLYTHEWOOD needs some love. There are a lot of PNR books set at boarding schools, but this one really stands out with its atmospheric tone and gorgeous writing. I’m excited you’re going to give all three books a try!

  16. Karen

    I’ve been interested in Waking Dark. I’ve been reading great reviews for that one. It’s hard to creep me out but that book just might do it.

    • Wendy Darling

      Dooooo it. I think you’d enjoy. My idea of creepy is kind of unusual (more on that with tomorrow’s post!), but I thought WD was full of tension and excitement.

    • Wendy Darling

      They are so much easier to write than long reviews, Savy! I have done a lot of them lately, and they’re helping me get through my backlog of reviews, especially during this busy time. More to come. ;)

  17. Renu

    If I’m being honest when I came across Bylthwood on GR I kind of just dismissed it as another typical paranormal boarding school book. You’re review has me sold though! I love been proved wrong, hehe. x)

    Thanks for the lovely review!

    • Wendy Darling

      Yeah–it’s hard to tell from the description how interesting the book is, but safe to say it’s not a typical PNR boarding school book at all. I don’t think everyone will love it, but it had so many things that I love and enjoy. :) I hope you have a positive experience with it, too!

  18. Becky LeJeune

    I loved THE WAKING DARK and I really can’t wait to read BLYTHEWOOD! I’ve read a few of Goodman’s adult titles and have enjoyed them all. (The ones I haven’t read are in my TBR!)

    • Wendy Darling

      Yay, WAKING DARK fan! (I keep wanting to say WAKING DEAD, for obvious reasons.)

      I’ve heard so many great things about Goodman’s adult novels, and I am kicking myself that I haven’t read any of them sooner. Must remedy that.

  19. Lauren @ Love is not a triangle

    I think I’ve determined that THE WALKING DARK is just too much for me. I’m not sure I can read a book with a cover like EAT BRAINS LOVE, though I do like a hilarious male protagonist. BUT I actually have BLYTHEWOOD from the library and was considering returning it without reading it. Clearly that was a BAD decision. You make the book sound fantastic, and I’m excited that it’s going to be a trilogy. I may have to start that one next! Glad I visited you today.

    • Wendy Darling

      Hah, Walking Dark is pretty intense. (I keep using that word, but it really is!) I don’t know your taste in horror well enough to predict how you’d feel about it, but I would venture to say that E, B, L probably isn’t your thing.

      I want you to read BLYTHEWOOD, though! I loved it, and I think you will, too. My guess is some people will be impatient with the pace at which the story unfolds, but it didn’t bother me at all.

  20. Liviania

    I haven’t heard of Blythewood, but it sounds like just my thing. (I have been considering the other two, so it’s nice to hear good things.)

    • Wendy Darling

      BLYTHEWOOD surprised me, too. The author’s adult books have been recommended to me several times by people who know I enjoy gothics, so when I saw she had a YA book I had to jump on it. It was totally not what I expected, but I enjoyed not knowing where the story was going so much. It’s not a perfect book, but it had a lot of things in it that were perfectly suited to my taste.

    • Wendy Darling

      WAKING DARK is super intense! People die brutally, and in some cases it’s worse emotion-wise than it is gore-wise. It’s not even that gory, it’s just written with a lot of tension and feeling.

  21. Meg M

    I was super excited about Eat, Brains, Love (hello, zombies, I’m in) but I’ve heard some things about it that make me think maybe it’s not the book I’m looking for. It sounds slightly Warm Bodies-ish and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

    Blythwood and The Waking Dark on the other hand, those slipped by me and both sound fantastic. I’ll have to give them a shot ASAP. Great review(s)!

    • Wendy Darling

      I was hoping E, B, L was something like the UNDEAD series by Kristy McKay, and it is similarly hilarious and gross. But it kind of feels like a debut novel, if you know what I mean. The pacing seems uneven, and I just really didn’t enjoy Cass’ POV at all, so for me conceptually it veered between 50% genuine enjoyment and 50% boredom. I think of Warm Bodies as a much more philosophical book (the book, not the movie), though, and this one is much jokier, and the tone skews a lot younger.

      I hope you enjoy BLYTHEWOOD and WAKING DARK, though! I loved them both.