The end of October is the perfect time of year to escape into fictional worlds that bring darkness and death but also hope in the belief of a new cycle. It’s a magical time of year where the veil between worlds offers us a glimpse into another time and place. I’ve chosen 5 Halloween reads that for me, represent these themes.
I’m sharing a short story to raise the hairs on the back of your neck; a fun and fascinating reference book; a story with a wood that is dark and foreboding, that kills and harms but its ultimate purpose is to protect; two novels on my to be read pile that keep summoning me 🙂
The first of my recommended Halloween reads is Uprooted by Noami Novik published by Tor. This novel totally blew me away.
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.
There is violence and corruption but also hope and growth. I loved the wood in all it’s shades – from the dark and foreboding to the final journey. It’s a living and breathing entity that harms/kills and is insidious but the purpose exposed in the summoning is heartbreaking. The role afterwards that Agnieszka takes on with the heart trees is dedicated and something you would expect her to choose.
Uprooted spoke to me about the ties we have with the land and how our fear of others who are different to us can make us toxic in our ignorance; of how power can be wielded by corrupted individuals and how we’re unsure of how an individual will react because of their own agenda; but most of all, accepting who we are and not compromising ourselves for anyone.
5* read and one of my all time top picks 🙂
The second of my Halloween reads is The Horror Handbook by bestselling Dutch author Paul van Loon, illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Recently published by Alma Books, it’s a fun and fascinating reference book for all fans of scary stories and things that go bump in the night.
What happens to a vampire when he dies?
How does somebody become a werewolf?
How can you protect yourself from witches?
All of these questions and more are answered in this book, which will finally give you all the information you ever wanted to know about ghosts, zombies, monsters and all kinds of creepy-crawly creatures that give us the heebie-jeebies.Full of tips, anecdotes and trivia.
I think this is a book that can be shared by the family and something to be used at Halloween celebrations too. It sounds perfect to create your own trivia questions and everyone will be surprised at some of the answers.
My third choice is one of those books summoning me and one I’ve had on the reading pile for quite a while … Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. It’s the author’s debut English novel and published by Hodder. I’ve seen Hex rated as vintage Stephen King (I loved his books way before my blogging days began).
Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay until death. Whoever comes to stay, never leaves.
Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth-century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Blind and silenced, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s beds for nights on end. So accustomed to her have the townsfolk become that they often forget she’s there. Or what a threat she poses. Because if the stitches are ever cut open, the story goes, the whole town will die.
The curse must not be allowed to spread. The elders of Black Spring have used high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break the strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into a dark nightmare.
A modern spin on a witch’s curse I think this is going to be very dark and I’m looking forward to be haunted!
I don’t read a lot of novellas as I find it hard to get that emotional draw with the characters that is so important for me. Harvest Festival by Karl Drinkwater hooked in my emotions right from the beginning and didn’t let up through this fast paced self published short.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
First the birds went quiet.
Then the evening sky filled with strange clouds that trapped the heat below.
Now Callum wakes, dripping in sweat. Something has come to his isolated Welsh farm. If he’s going to keep his family alive during this single night when all hell breaks loose, he’ll have to think fast. And when he sees what he’s facing, he suspects even that may not be enough.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
From the moment Callum wakes in the middle of the night sweating the action is spellbinding. The isolation of the setting, the dreamlike quality to events and ignorance to what is truly happening lends suspense and terror to each and every precaution Callum tries to make to protect his family. Reading this in bed at night my heart was pounding and every muscle tense as I willed the family to safety and even when I thought they had a chance, Karl adds more to the terror as Callum tries to rescue his daughter against a deadline. All members of the family push past their own boundaries and limitations to work as a team.
Harvest Festival is also included in Karl Drinkwater’s horror collection, They Move Below.
My final Halloween Read is next up on my reading list. I enjoyed Karen Maitland’s The Vanishing Witch and having spent our summer holiday in Porlock this year there is no way I could let The Plague Charmer pass me by 🙂 Publishing 20th October by Headline, I’m sure I will be able to visualise the setting!
Riddle me this: I have a price, but it cannot be paid in gold or silver.
1361. Porlock Weir, Exmoor. Thirteen years after the Great Pestilence, plague strikes England for the second time. Sara, a packhorse man’s wife, remembers the horror all too well and fears for safety of her children.
Only a dark-haired stranger offers help, but at a price that no one will pay.
Fear gives way to hysteria in the village and, when the sickness spreads to her family, Sara finds herself locked away by neighbours she has trusted for years. And, as her husband – and then others – begin to die, the cost no longer seems so unthinkable.
The price that I ask, from one willing to pay… A human life.
I’m looking forward to the historical and supernatural threaded through The Plague Charmer and I’m sure there will be plenty of darkness alongside the fear.
There is one other debut novel I wanted to share with you which is on my radar but not publishing until January. The Bear and the Nightingale is a coming of age story inspired by a Russian Fairy-tale … because I loved Uprooted I think this will strike a chord with me too!
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain,intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, the father hides the gift away and his daughter, Vasya, grows up a wild, wilful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.
It sounds like another magical fairytale doesn’t it!
Reading is subjective and you will have different Halloween reads to mine. You’re very welcome to share your recommendations in the comments.