Witching Hour Reads for Halloween

“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! 

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A Buzzworthy Wishlist

Honeybee season is well and truly over. I glimpsed one last hive straggler buzzing weakly around some wilting flowers at the weekend, but I imagine that as the days get colder and darker, most of our British bees will be dying off or going into hibernation. Having been on a beekeeping course this summer, I'm a big fan of the little guys (gals) and thought I'd pull together a short Apis-related wishlist to celebrate their year of hard work. I've thrown in one of my recent reads, Laline Paull's The Bees, a darkly dystopian yet almost completely biologically correct fictional account of life in the hive - there's a review on the way!

(above, in clockwise order)

Okay, so that Alex Monroe ring is probably just a tad unattainable pricewise. I'll probably consign it to my 'in my dreams' secret wishlist board on Pinterest. So pretty and delicate! Do you get a buzz out of any of these items?

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London Zoo with Inez

I'm always excited to hear about my friend Inez's exotic tales of volunteering at ZSL (London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo), so when she offered to take me around London Zoo on a guest pass, I jumped at the chance. I've been many, many times before, but couldn't wait to see the zoo from Inez's perspective: the girl studied biology at Oxford and is now doing a masters in Wild Animal Biology in partnership with ZSL, so this was going to be an expert trip! Ok - brace yourself for an absolute onslaught of animal pictures, it's a long one today...

The first animals we went to see were some marvellously plump goats.

Baby got some serious back!

These sweet little kids had seemingly commandeered one another as besties.

Next up, a Timon moment with these very cute meerkats.

Inez wants to eventually specialise in birds, so next we visited the tropical bird house - a 19th century pavilion originally built as a reptile house.

I was taken with this jacana egg, which reminded me of Arabic script. 

Birds with brilliantly-coloured plumage flew around above our heads and waddled up to us in search of food. Inez pointed out her favourite bird, a very cute, cartoon-like red-crested turaco. She's been working on a bird watercolour project lately (yes, as well as studying towards her MSci, she's a wonderful artist - so proud!) which features a turaco. Check out Inez's paintings here.

I thought this fruit dove was beautiful. Like a dressed-up version of our London pigeons.

Back outside, I got up close and personal with this extremely stoic hornbill...

And fell in love a bit with this inquisitive - and reportedly very naughty - monkey.

Inez and I got into the primate mood possibly a little more than was necessary, after watching the gorillas having their lunch. Cos we're prime mates too. Geddit? Ok, I just made myself feel ill. 

We spent some time in the cool shadows of the reptile house, famous scene of the boa constrictor breakout in Harry Potter. There were definitely a few kids in there convinced of their ability to speak Parseltongue. 

We also wandered through the aquarium, pausing to watch the horrifyingly giant carnivorous fish swim languidly back and forth, and to coo over the clownfish - i.e. Nemo. 

It was a wondrously warm day, which meant ice cream was on the cards! Yay!

So much happiness when you've got an Oreo ice cream sandwich in your hand.

And when you're riding on a bronze hippo.

The real-life hippo was decidedly cuter, and more docile, than the sculpture. Although apparently they're responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large animal...

A giraffe wandered over to us to have a munch on some tasty branches.

We came across the sweetest couple - a baby emperor tamarin monkey clinging to the back of a golden lion tamarin. Although a fellow golden tamarin seemed affronted by the newly adopted charge, and tried to cuff the baby off the foster mother's back...

After watching otters rolling and playing with each other, Inez had to dash off to a lecture, and I struck out on my own to the penguin pool. 

I must have honestly taken about a hundred pictures of the penguins. Which I reckon was warranted, since I've been on work experience at Penguin Books this month...So it's been a serious job to whittle these photos down, I can tell you.

I fell a bit in love with this poor penguin with a bad eye, and may possibly have shed a hormone-induced tear or two over him later on...

And this sweetie giving himself a good old groom.

Although I did get a baleful stare after he was done. I get it. Time to move it along.

I love watching penguins swimming. They're so effortlessly elegant, gliding sleekly through the water at top speed.

Thank you so much for taking me to the zoo, Inez! Zoos are a bit of a controversial subject, I know (and I definitely don't agree with the way animals are treated at some zoos) - but it's wonderful to be able to see some of the creatures that live at ZSL firsthand and learn about them. It definitely instilled a life-long love of animals in me as a child, and I spotted a few kids who I imagine will have gone away raving about the animals they saw for a good long while. I'll leave you with this seriously broodiness-inducing photo of a little French boy attempting to make friends with the penguins...*melts all over the floor*

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