“The witching hour, somebody had once whispered to her, was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world all to themselves.” ― Roald Dahl, The BFG
Tomorrow is Halloween, bringing with it little painted beggars brandishing buckets at my front door, flickering jack o'lanterns in windows and the greatest witching hour of them all. In preparation for All Hallows' Eve this month, I made it my goal to read five books belonging to the darker genres. I also decided to source all five from my excellent local library in Queen's Park, whose myriad choice meant I ended up with a huge range of subject matter. From teenage witches to a time-travelling serial killer, a patient brought back from the dead at the turn of the century, a medieval bride lost during a game of hide-and-seek, and a man targeted by a malicious, invisible assailant...I had great fun! Here's what I ended up reading.
Half Bad by Sally Green
I'd heard stirrings about Half Bad all over Twitter, and initially thought that its plot might be quite similar to Harry Potter, with narrative elements such as the formative years of a young male witch, romances with pretty witch girls and the development of latent magic power. But Hogwarts this is not. This great YA focuses on a persecuted half-Black half-White witch, in a world where White is acceptable and Black is very definitely not. Do I detect some racial undertones here? If you're a fan of fantasy with love and violence thrown in, this will definitely be your cup of tea/cauldron of potion. I'm already anticipating the next instalment in the series.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
The Shining Girls has to be one of my favourite reads of the autumn so far. Sharing a similar premise to Stephen King's Doctor Sleep (supernatural serial killer(s) target victims with the 'shining'), it comes into its own with the extremely original element of a piece of architecture with the ability to manipulate the killer as well as allow him to travel through time. I won't say more because I reckon you should read this, if you're a thriller fan - or not very good with horror for the most part.
Printer's Devil Court by Susan Hill
This beautifully designed pocket-sized ghost story was written by the author of The Woman in Black - which had me sold the second I saw it in the library! I found The Woman In Black utterly chilling, both in book and movie form, and so I had high hopes for Printer's Devil Court. Named after the dingy halls of residence off Fleet Street occupied by student doctors, the book centres around three medics who make an unwise pact to emulate Jesus' raising of Lazarus, and attempt to bring a girl back from the dead...For our protagonist, the effects of this decision will resonate throughout his life, with some predictably unhappy consequences. Fun, light reading - until I got to the last page, and found that I was too terrified to turn off my bedroom light...
The Fear Index by Robert Harris
Now, this one didn't involve monsters or the supernatural (unless you count the ghost in the machine...) but it had the definite creep factor - a man who has built his fortune on calculating the 'fear index' in the stock markets, allowing him to buy stock at plunging prices, finds that someone is out to provoke the very same reaction in him. What follows is a ticking timebomb that will lead to the collapse both of the man and the financial markets - and there's very little time in which to pinpoint the perpetrator. I'd call this a Dan Brown style read - not amazingly written or wonderfully memorable, but a fun thriller to immerse yourself in while on a train.
The Mistletoe Bride & Other Haunting Tales by Kate Mosse
My first foray into reading Kate Mosse's fiction! I enjoyed this collection of short stories immensely, especially those focused around the eponymous mistletoe bride, lost on the night of her wedding... The stories are tied together by their settings: all find their roots in northern France, the Languedoc and Mosse's home territory of Sussex, and most are taken from ancient myth and legend, which I loved. I'm really looking forward to reading Mosse's other works now, as I know many of her other books are based in Sussex and France, such as the Languedoc Trilogy.
As a bonus, I'm now reading a book called Snowblind, by Christopher Golden: a terrible snowstorm ravages a town, but of course the horror doesn't stop there. Years down the line, the survivors get 'exactly what they've been wishing for...And the realisation their nightmare is only beginning' - or so the blurb tells me. I'm expecting a revenant plot twist is on the cards, in the style of The Returned. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to curl up with Snowblind in front of the wood stove, with a mug of tea and a couple of these Mr. Kipling bad boys to keep me company! (See below for my guilty pleasure...especially in their mince pie 'Winter Whirl' incarnation. Not even sponsored or anything, I just have horrifically bad taste where it comes to sweet treats :D)
Have a terrifyingly happy Halloween!