Skeletons on Books

Celebrating the Season with Our Favorite Halloween Reads

It’s that time of year again! The Halloween season is upon us and as we stroll through our neighborhoods, we are enjoying those homes decorated with spooky ghosts, witches, goblins, and carved pumpkins glowing on porches. Cooler temperatures and longer nights have given way to more reading time in our favorite chair, wrapped in a soft blanket. Today, we thought it might be fun to share some of our scary, and not so scary Halloween reads.

May- The books I have chosen are definitely a bit more old school.  I have to admit, I haven’t read a truly scary novel in quite some time. I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to horror. However, as a younger woman and teenager I loved it and for me, when it comes to frightening- hide under the covers reads, Stephen King tops the list. I haven’t read many of his more recent books, but his classics such as The Shining, Pet Cemetery, Salem’s Lot, and Carrie are sure to send chills down your spine. As I think back, the novel IT was by far his most terrifying book. I often like to read before bed, but this book had me so freaked out, before I turned out the light I had to put that book in a different room, afraid if it sat on my nightstand, the characters would somehow pull me right into their horrifying world.  And in case you’re wondering, no, I did not see the 2017 movie based on the novel. Since we’re talking about Stephen King, two of my favorite (not so scary) novels that I plan to re-read are The Stand and Needful Things. 

A brief Amazon summary:

Stephen King’s terrifying, classic #1 New York Times bestseller, “a landmark in American literature” (Chicago Sun-Times)—about seven adults who return to their hometown to confront a nightmare they had first stumbled on as teenagers…an evil without a name: It.

Welcome to Derry, Maine. It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real.

They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers.

Readers of Stephen King know that Derry, Maine, is a place with a deep, dark hold on the author. It reappears in many of his books, including Bag of Bones, Hearts in Atlantis, and 11/22/63. But it all starts with It.

When I was in college, I took a literature class where I was introduced to the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve been a fan ever since and enjoy the mystery and darkness that surround his poems and short stories. A few of my favorites are The Cask of Amontillado and The Masque of the Red Death. I highly recommend his book of complete tales and poems.

 

Years ago, I read a series called The Witching Hour, by Anne Rice. The books tell the story of The Mayfair Witches, an old southern family living in New Orleans and the spirit that has guided the women and their fortunes throughout generations. This series was a bit of a commitment, but very enjoyable. Her Vampire Chronicles series is also very good. 

 

A brief Amazon Summary:

From the author of the extraordinary Vampire Chronicles comes a huge, hypnotic novel of witchcraft and the occult through four centuries.

Demonstrating, once again, her gift for spellbinding storytelling and the creation of legend, Anne Rice makes real for us a great dynasty of witches–a family given to poetry and to incest, to murder and to philosophy; a family that, over the ages, is itself haunted by a powerful, dangerous, and seductive being.

On the veranda of a great New Orleans house, now faded, a mute and fragile woman sits rocking . . . and The Witching Hour begins.

It begins in our time with a rescue at sea.  Rowan Mayfair, a beautiful woman, a brilliant practitioner of neurosurgery–aware that she has special powers but unaware that she comes from an ancient line of witches–finds the drowned body of a man off the coast of California and brings him to life.  He is Michael Curry, who was born in New Orleans and orphaned in childhood by fire on Christmas Eve, who pulled himself up from poverty, and who now, in his brief interval of death, has acquired a sensory power that mystifies and frightens him.

As these two, fiercely drawn to each other, fall in love and–in passionate alliance–set out to solve the mystery of her past and his unwelcome gift, the novel moves backward and forward in time from today’s New Orleans and San Francisco to long-ago Amsterdam and a château in the France of Louis XIV.  An intricate tale of evil unfolds–an evil unleashed in seventeenth-century Scotland, where the first “witch,” Suzanne of the Mayfair, conjures up the spirit she names Lasher . . . a creation that spells her own destruction and torments each of her descendants in turn.

Skeletons on Books

 
June – I am a huge scaredy cat.  I saw the movie Poltergeist in the fifth grade and to this day, over 30 years later, I cannot sleep with my closet door open even a crack.  I cannot even watch the previews for a horror film so as you can imagine, I avoid any type of scary read.  Instead, for Halloween, I love books that have a gothic feel or have elements of magic or witches.
 
 Gothic books usually have a dark setting and are written in a style that exudes mystery, dread and often grand passion.  Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier  is a classic gothic style novel.  Set in the dark and dreary Cornish coast, the heroine of this story sets out to uncover the mysteries of her husband’s past.  I haven’t read this one in a while but remember feeling chilled as I read this story. 
 
A more contemporary gothic style novel (and one I don’t think got the attention it deserved) is easily one of my most favorite books.  The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Sittenfeld is set in an old and creepy mansion. 
A brief summary from Amazon:
 
When Margaret Lea opened the door to the past, what she confronted was her destiny.

All children mythologize their birth…So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter’s collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself — all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida’s storytelling but remains suspicious of the author’s sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.

I am definitely rereading this one soon.

Books that have magical elements are great for Halloween. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen is another of my all time favorites.  How can you go wrong with an apple tree that throws apples when it doesn’t like someone or to protect its inhabitants, or a caterer that can make food to make you or others feel certain feelings.

From Amazon:

In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it.…

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other. 

Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own….

Another great genre for Halloween are books with witches as the main characters.  There are a couple of historical fiction books in this genre including the Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe a novel that explores the Salem Witch Trials.

Another great book that explores history and witches and vampires (and I am not a vampire fan as I made it through half of Twilight before I set it aside and have never seen any of the movies) is the Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  This is the first book in a trilogy.  A young scholar, Diana Bishop calls up a alchemical book from the stacks of the Oxford library.  While Diana knows she descends from a long line of witches but she wants nothing to do with the underworld.  By unwittingly calling up the book, Diana unleashes the magical world, leading her to meet a geneticist vampire, Matthew Clairemont.  Matthew and Diana start a taboo relationship further upsetting the magical world.  A book that is rich in history, magic and romance this is a super engrossing read.  

Finally, in Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman and its prequel The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman the characters are modern day witches .  The Owens are a  family of witches that cannot escape their magical heritage.  The books explore family relationships and love with a dose of magic along the way.  And Alice Hoffman’s writing is just lovely and magical on its own.

Enjoy all of your Halloween spooky reading. –May and June

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December; And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.  Edgar Allan Poe

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