Mini reviews: a few recent spooky reads!

May 9, 2023

TITLE: Coraline
AUTHOR: Neil Gaiman
GENRE: Horror/Fantasy
AGE RANGE: Middle Grade
PAGES: 162pg

When Coraline steps through a door to find another house strangely similar to her own (only better), things seem marvelous.

But there’s another mother there, and another father, and they want her to stay and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Coraline will have to fight with all her wit and courage if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life.

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“When you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.”

As someone who has loved spooky stories and middle grade horror since I was a kid, I’m shocked that it took me this long to read this book (or see the film!), but I’d say I’m living proof that Neil Gaiman’s kids’ books are timeless, because I loved this. The entire premise of the Other Mother is horribly unsettling, but I loved watching little Coraline find her courage and learn to be grateful for her “boring” parents and home.

I listened to the full-cast audiobook and I highly recommend it! The voices were so much fun and added a really special extra layer to this parable of an adventure.

content warnings →
WARNINGS (click to expand):

kidnapping, child endangerment, insects, vermin, animal injury (brief), child death (vague)

representation →

casual mention of a character being a trans boy

TITLE: Hannah-Beast
AUTHOR: Jennifer McMahon
GENRE: Horror
PAGES: 49pg

The fate of a lonely girl becomes part of a town’s shameful secret history in Thriller Award winner Jennifer McMahon’s terrifying story of guilt, retribution, and one tragic Halloween night.

Thirty-four years ago, on October 31, poor Hannah Talbott took part in a scavenger hunt gone violently wrong. The mean girls made sure of it. To this day, for a haunted local mother, the most unsettling Halloween costume of all is an urban legend they call Hannah-Beast. It’s a reminder of the past she can’t forget. Especially tonight when it’s come back, so close to home.

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The pumpkin only stared, the hideous grin seeming to grow wider, more taunting. She was not going to be forgiven. Not this easily.

I’ve been meaning to read a Jennifer McMahon book for ages, so I thought a short story might be a good introduction to her work, and wow, this was so dark and delightful. I would absolutely re-read this on Halloween and would recommend this to anyone looking for a quick, spooky read — especially for an October reading list.

content warnings →

violence, child death, loss, grief, fire, bullying

representation →

TITLE: Pretty Marys All in a Row
AUTHOR: Gwendolyn Kiste
GENRE: Fantasy
PAGES: 94pg

You’ll find her on a lonely highway, hitchhiking at midnight. She calls herself Rhee, but everyone else knows her by another name: Resurrection Mary. And when she’s transported home each night to a decrepit mansion on a lane to nowhere, she’s not alone.

In the antique mirror, call her name three times, and Bloody Mary will appear. Outside, wandering through a garden of poisonous flowers is Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary, a nursery rhyme come to gruesome life. Downstairs is another jump-rope rhyme—Mary Mack, forever conscripted to build her own coffin. And brooding in the corner with her horse skull is the restless Mari Lwyd.

hey are the Marys, the embodiment of urban legend and what goes bump in the night. Every evening, they gather around the table and share nightmares like fine wine, savoring the flavors of those they’ve terrified.

But other than these brief moments together, the Marys are alone, haunting a solitary gloom that knows them better than they know themselves. That’s because they don’t remember who they were before—or even if there was a before. And worst of all, they don’t know how to escape this fate.

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You belong to me. All you pretty Marys belong to me.

I love cozy, mysterious little ghost stories, and I adore books featuring ghosts as the main characters, so this was right up my alley. Pretty Marys All in a Row is a quiet, speculative novella about a group of Marys and the pain-staking lengths they go to in order to keep themselves “alive” as fabled spirits, and I really enjoyed the way all of these urban legends were brought together to tell this story.

Unfortunately, I’ll admit that the plot lost my interest at times, mostly because of how slow-paced it felt — this struck me as a story that may have worked better at the 40- or 50-page mark, maybe even as an installment in an anthology — but overall, I thought it was a sweet, whimsical tale and I enjoyed it.

content warnings →

death, grief, very minor elements of gore

representation →



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More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

      1. I’ve still not seen the film, but she was super creepy in the book as well! As a kid, I was always terrified of the idea of my parents being replaced or anything, so I think I would have had nightmares about the Other Mother if I’d seen or read this at a young age! 😅

    1. There’s a trans boy in Coraline?? I’ve only watched the movie – just about a hundred times or so lol. I’m not a fan of full cast audios plus I only have access to the Neil Gaiman narrations but glad you like the audio!

      1. I’ve never watched Coraline but I really need to check it out! And yeah, it’s VERY casually mentioned but there’s a ghost who says they’re a boy, and he says “I remember I used to be a girl and they put me in dresses, but I’m a boy now” and then that’s that, and nobody makes a big deal of it or anything. It’s really lovely! I was curious and googled it to see if anyone really mentioned it much online, as I’d never heard anyone talk about it, and I just found some tumblr blogs talking about it, but apparently Neil Gaiman has been quite the ally for a long time from what I hear!

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