Spooky book & film recommendations

Where has this year gone?! I feel like I’ve been in a weird time warp since Covid hit. Who am I? Where am I? When am I? Who knows? 😂 To mark the beginning of October, I decided to make a very unpredictable and unique post (/sarcasm) to share some spooky book and film recommendations for the autumn and Halloween season 🎃👻 Since I am an avid horror fan and almost exclusively watch horror films, I couldn’t resist adding some films into the mix. So here are 8 recommendations for horror/thriller books and films, 4 for each.

BOOKS

I Am Legend

This novella makes for a fast read and is ideal for a dark, spooky evening. It’s a unique vampire story with an intelligent, quick-witted and resillient protagonist. The post-apocalyptic setting is haunting and emotionally impactful and gave me The Walking Dead vibes when I read it.

Pet Sematary

Stephen King is generally not an author for me, and of all the King novels I’ve read, Pet Sematary is the only one I would recommend. It’s haunting, disturbing and provides a gruelling insight into the meaning of death and grief. There are scenes in this book that are genuinely spine tingling. The honesty and emotion that is depicted combined with the horror elements makes this an unforgettable and terrifying read.

If We Were Villains

This dark academia is the ideal autumnual read. It’s set at a performance university that specialises in Shakespeare and, like all dark academia’s follows a group of students in the aftermath of the mysterious deaths of one of their friends. It’s fast paced mystery that’s both dramatic and hard-hitting with Shakespearian influences running throughout.

Dracula

It’s a classic for a reason. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the epitome of vampire gothic fiction. With it’s slow building plot and atmospheric setting, it continues to pile on the suspense and mystery throughout. Admittedly, it loses some of its impact since the nature of Count Dracula is common knowledge and cemented in pop culture, but it’s a thrilling and enjoyable read if you’re looking for a slow paced and intense gothic horror.

FILMS

Hell House LLC

Hell House LLC is a stellar example of the found-footage genre and why it works so well. It follows a group of friends that visit a haunted house to investigate a tragic accident that happened there years previously. The tension is slowly built and the atmosphere is effectively creepy. There’s an authenticity to the story that makes you feel invested and it doesn’t rely on cheap scares and tricks. It’s a must-watch for any fans of found-footage and haunted houses.

Triangle

One of the most unique, mind-bending and thrilling horrors I’ve ever seen. The film begins with the main character Jess, heading off on a sailing trip with a guy she knows from work and a few of his friends, but things don’t quite go to plan. You might think you know what’s going to happen but I guarantee you won’t. Triangle continually takes twists and turns, keeping you guessing and forcing you to question what you think you know.

Identity

This one is for those of you that don’t like the more hardcore horrors and are looking for more of a thriller-mystery. Identity is the older film out of the four I’ve chosen, but a true gem. Ten strangers find themselves stranded at a motel in the middle of a storm and are killed by an unknown killer one by one. It’s an unpredictable and genuinely intruiging plot that will keep you guessing throughout.

Haunt

Haunt has gained some recognition in horror circles recently and it’s well deserved. Although it may first appear to be another teen-scream horror maze film, it exceeds that. It’s entertaining and steeped in tension with strong performances. Of all the films on this list, it’s the perfect Halloween watch.

Happy October, my lovelies and keep reading.

How to Disappear – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐

Author: Gillian McAllister
Genre: Thriller
Publication year: 2020
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Murder and violence.

Synopsis

After 14-year-old Zara witnesses a horrific crime, her life is turned upside down and her family is torn apart. In the aftermath of the crime, Zara and her mother, Lauren enter into witness protection and are forced to leave behind everything they love and everything they know.

What I liked

  • The premise

What I disliked

  • Predictable plot
  • Flat and undeveloped characters
  • Repetitiveness

Plot and Structure

As the synopsis suggests, the plot is primarily revolved around the initial crime witnessed by Zara and the family’s experience of witness protection as a consequence. There are some details relating to the crime which are witheld initially, but generally there was very little mystery around the crime and the focus was much more on the characters and their experiences. There are four POV characters – Zara, Lauren (Zara’s mother), Aidan (Zara’s step-father) and Poppy (Zara’s step-sister) and it alternates between their perspectives throughout. Each character is affected by the crime in a different way and have different reactions to the huge changes in their lives.

Generally, the plot was basic. The crime itself was revealed so early that I wasn’t invested in it and the motive for the crime felt silly and contrived. Considering it’s a thriller novel, I expected more intruige and mystery. The build-up was good in parts, but unfortunately, the end result was anti-climatic. There were a couple of twists towards the end, but they were underwhelming and lacked impact. Also, the limitations of writing about such a secretive topic as witness protection (an issue the author herself admits in the afterword) restricted where the story could go and required me to suspend disbelief on multiple ocassions. However, I do think some of the issues I had with the plot stemmed from the fact that I thought I was getting a crime thriller and it was more of a family crime drama.

Writing Style

The writing was okay – clean, simple and effective. It served its purpose and made for an easy read. Personally, I prefer a more distinctive writing style with complex prose and language, but I appreciate that for this type of book that writing style doesn’t necessarily fit. One aspect of the writing which particularly frustrated me was the endless repetition of phrases and character traits.

Characters and Relationships

Well-written and developed characters are my jam when it comes to books, but unfortunately, the characters fell completely flat for me. I believe this was partly what contributed to my lack of investment in the story. There was so much emphasis on the characters, but none of them were fleshed out enough to feel any attachment to them. The main characters had a handful of characteristics that defined them and they were repeated over and over. I know that Lauren loves baths, Zara is a social justice warrior, Poppy is a young carer and Aidan is an IT tech. Outside of that, I don’t know anything about these characters or have any sense of who they’re supposed to be. The character development was also inconsistent and sloppy. In the last third of the book Zara seemed to get a personality transplant and the only defining characteristics she had were completely dropped. It felt to me like the author was trying to write a character-centric story, but the characters weren’t up to the standard they needed to be to be able to pull that off. This also probably explains why I pinned all of my hopes on the plot – because I wanted it to make up for the characters!

On the other hand, I appreciated the focus on family in this story and the portrayal of the parent/child relationship. At its core, I believe this is a story of family and sacrifice. It did showcase the bonds between the family and the impact that their separation had on them emotionally and practically. In that regard, it achieved what it set out to do. Admittedly, the undeveloped characters did hinder the development of the relationships too, but I preferred the character dynamics over the individual character writing.

Concluding thoughts

How to Disappear was unfortunately just not the book for me based on personal preference. I’m generally not a big reader of crime thrillers and this book reminded me why that is. Despite being readable and exploring the intruiging and mysterious witness protection system in the UK, it lacked depth and I was unable to connect with it on any level. Although the premise was promising and the plot had interesting aspects, it was held back by the undeveloped and one-dimensional characters. Nonetheless, I did find it to be an easy and mildly entertaining read.

I’d recommend How to Disappear if:

You’re a fan of thriller novels and are looking for a family focused crime-drama.

Have you read How to Disappear? What did you think? If not, are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.