Hello! I’m having the most blissful Halloween so far, spending time catching up on Poldark on Netflix (I’m a bit late to the party – I’ve only just started series two), reading and listening to some fantastic books (does anyone else always seem to have multiple books on the go? For me this tends to take the form of a physical book, a Kindle book and an audiobook), and basking in the glow of having submitted a uni assignment two days early. There’s mince pie flavour ice cream in the freezer, a delicious chill in the air, and the promise of crispy chicken fajitas for dinner tonight… I’m in heaven.
I’m on holiday from work this week, so I have lots of leisure time stretching out before me, and it feels wonderful. The weather’s turned really chilly here, so I’ve been spending much of my time curled up under blankets, and right now I’m cocooned under a quilt in my reading snug with a steaming cup of tea beside me. Bliss.
My plan is to start a monthly round-up of books that’ve been on my mind — not just books that I’ve read, but those that I’m itching to read too. Without further ado, here’s my round-up for October.
Melmoth – Sarah Perry
Twenty years ago Helen Franklin did something she cannot forgive herself for, and she has spent every day since barricading herself against its memory. But her sheltered life is about to change.
A strange manuscript has come into her possession. It is filled with testimonies from the darkest chapters of human history, which all record sightings of a tall, silent woman in black, with unblinking eyes and bleeding feet: Melmoth, the loneliest being in the world. Condemned to walk the Earth forever, she tries to beguile the guilty and lure them away for a lifetime wandering alongside her.
Everyone that Melmoth seeks out must make a choice: to live with what they’ve done, or be led into the darkness. Helen can’t stop reading, or shake the feeling that someone is watching her. As her past finally catches up with her, she too must choose which path to take.
I absolutely adore this book. It’s my favourite read of 2018 so far, and is one of those books I just know I’m going to have to re-read. It is heart-stoppingly haunting, brilliant, beautiful. Sarah Perry brings Prague to life in the most darkly stunning way. The stories within the story itself are at the same time both appealing and horrifying — this is such a fantastic, chilling Gothic novel. If you decide to read Melmoth, don’t be surprised if a black-robed spectre starts to haunt the periphery of your vision — and for heaven’s sake, don’t take her hand…
Oh – and those ever-present jackdaws! I loved them. My heart lurches in terror whenever I even think about seeing one now.
I finished Melmoth a couple of weeks ago now and I still feel like I’m in mourning, I loved it that much. I’ve added Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer to my TBR list. I have the newly released edition with an introduction from Sarah Perry, which I can’t wait to get stuck into. One for November, I think.
The Eyes – Edith Wharton
Edwin Culwin wakes up to find a ghastly pair of eyes staring at him, the eyes of a man who has done a lot of harm in his life’. They pursue him wherever he goes; he doesn’t know why; he doesn’t know who they belong to – but he can feel his soul being pierced.
I thought this would be the perfect pre-Halloween read. I read it yesterday, and was hoping to be chilled, but this short story left me feeling disappointingly… temperate. It didn’t unsettle me in the least. It was an easy enough read, but it left no real impression on me. It’s a pretty little addition to the shelf though. Have you read this and enjoyed it? I’d love to know your thoughts.
Bitter Orange – Claire Fuller
From the attic of a dilapidated English country house, she sees them – Cara first: dark and beautiful, clinging to a marble fountain of Cupid, and Peter, an Apollo. It is 1969, and they are spending the summer in the rooms below hers while Frances writes a report on the follies in the garden for the absent American owner. But she is distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she discovers a peephole which gives her access to her neighbours’ private lives.
To Frances’ surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to spend time with her. It is the first occasion that she has had anybody to call a friend, and before long they are spending every day together: eating lavish dinners, drinking bottle after bottle of wine and smoking cigarettes till the ash piles up on the crumbling furniture. Frances is dazzled.
But as the hot summer rolls lazily on, it becomes clear that not everything is right between Cara and Peter. The stories that Cara tells don’t quite add up – and as Frances becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the glamorous, hedonistic couple, the boundaries between truth and lies, right and wrong, begin to blur.
Amid the decadence of that summer, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand all their lives forever.
I read Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days in early 2016, and it has stayed with me since then. It’s such a memorable, atmospheric book. On hearing about her most recent book, Bitter Orange, I wasted no time in downloading the audiobook, which is masterfully read by Rachel Bavidge. I’m currently half way through, and it is really gripping. I’m a sucker for anything set in a country house, and all the better if it’s crumbling…
All being well and good, I’ll post a full review of this one once I’ve finished it.
The Woman in Black – Susan Hill
Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the sole inhabitant of Eel Marsh House. The house stands at the end of a causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but it is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black – and her terrible purpose.
The Woman in Black is a modern classic, and a wonderfully sinister one at that. It’s only fitting that it should be on my mind at this time of year. I recently received a beautiful, signed copy which is illustrated with fabulous wood engravings by Andy English. I’m part-way through reading it, and can’t wait to finish. In fact, I’ll be returning to it just as soon as I’ve finished writing this post.
The House on Vesper Sands – Paraic O’Donnell
It is the winter of 1893, and in London the snow is falling.
It is falling as Gideon Bliss seeks shelter in a Soho church, where he finds Angie Tatton lying before the altar. His one-time love is at death’s door, murmuring about brightness and black air, and about those she calls the Spiriters. In the morning she is gone.
The snow is falling as a seamstress climbs onto a ledge above Mayfair, a mysterious message stitched into her own skin. It is falling as she steadies herself and closes her eyes.
It is falling, too, as her employer, Lord Strythe, vanishes into the night, watched by Octavia Hillingdon, a restless society columnist who longs to uncover a story of real importance.
She and Gideon will soon be drawn into the same mystery, each desperate to save Angie and find out the truth about Lord Strythe. Their paths will cross as the darkness gathers, and will lead them at last to what lies hidden at the house on Vesper Sands.
I made myself a promise last week that I wouldn’t buy another book until Christmas. My Christmas wish list is pretty much all books, so I didn’t want to risk any duplicates. However, I was in Waterstones at the weekend and had to physically TEAR myself away from this book. Oh gosh, I want it so badly it’s an almost physical ache! I picked a copy up, walked around the shop with it, pretending to myself that I would be buying it. But I did the right thing eventually, and returned it to its pile, with a mournful look upon my face and a sinking feeling in my stomach.
LUCKILY, I have a nifty way round this quandry of really wanting it but not wanting to risk physical duplicates. It’s called an audio book. And my monthly Audible credit came in the following day! So this will be my next audio book after Bitter Orange. I really can’t wait. I’ve seen it compared to the writing of Wilkie Collins, Dickens, Conan Doyle… I am frankly a little stunned at my self-restraint, that I managed not to buy it in Waterstones.
The Witch of Willow Hall – Hester Fox
Years after the Salem witch trials one witch remains. She just doesn’t know it… yet.
Growing up Lydia Montrose knew she was descended from the legendary witches of Salem but was warned to never show the world what she could do and so slowly forgot her legacy. But Willow Hall has awoken something inside her…
1821: Having fled family scandal in Boston Willow Hall seems an idyllic refuge from the world, especially when Lydia meets the previous owner of the house, John Barrett.
But a subtle menace haunts the grounds of Willow Hall, with strange voices and ghostly apparitions in the night, calling to Lydia’s secret inheritance and leading to a greater tragedy than she could ever imagine.
Can Lydia confront her inner witch and harness her powers or is it too late to save herself and her family from the deadly fate of Willow Hall?
Last but not least is this treasure of a book. Doesn’t it sound fantastic? I’ve seen lots of buzz about this on Twitter and Instagram and was really excited when the UK edition finally came out! This will definitely be one of my November reads. I have to admit that I don’t tend to read many books set in the USA, so I’m excited to give this one a go.
Well, that’s it for my October round-up! I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’d love to know what books have been on your mind this month, or which ones you’re excited to get stuck into in November.