I am a seasonal reader. By that I mean that there are certain books that demand to be read during a particular season, be it quirky romances in spring or science fiction in the summer. With its mild sunny days and chilly nights struck through with sharp breezes carrying the scent of decaying leaves and cinnamon, fall is the most demanding season of all. Late September always finds me plotting out a list of books that will put me in just the right spirit for the season of Jack-o-Lanterns and ghost stories.
Like my movies, I don’t like my books to be scary. But I do want a creepy factor, a thick and clawing fog, dead branches scratching on windows, humans who aren’t quite human. There can be ghosts and monsters, sure, but I prefer those books that reveal the spooky wrongness we are all capable of harboring. Where magic is real and coexists in the world we already know, accounting for that weird prickling you feel on the back of your neck or the chill that steals through you on even the warmest days. My fall reads evoke these feelings and leave me looking forward to this season most of all. Well, I look forward to the books as well as to the return of pumpkin beers, hot apple cider and spicy chai lattes.
I thought I would share a list, my good readers, as you build your own TBR list for fall. Some books I plan to read this season, and some are books I’ve already read that fit perfectly into the season. Books I haven’t read (0r haven’t quite finished) are starred.
- Coraline – Neil Gaiman: If you think you know this book because you’ve seen the movie, think again. The creepiest bits were edited out of the film. This could make for a good family read-aloud story the week of Halloween for those of you with kids, but remember that it has classic haunted house elements that might scare some kids. Commonsensemedia.org rated it for ages 8 and up, though parent and children users have rated it for ages 10 and up. As always, only you know what your child can handle.
- *Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs: This is another one that is mainly creepy with surreal elements, largely thanks to it being a young adult novel. I am halfway through and loving it so far. Riggs mixes elements from freak shows, haunted houses and horror stories, with time travel, bildungsroman and vintage photography to great effect. And that doesn’t even really describe what this book is about. It’s also the start of a trilogy, which I plan to complete, and has been adapted into a film (the release date is March 2016).
- *Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury: I just finished From the Dust Returned. While I enjoyed the tone and atmosphere, the plot was difficult to track making it difficult to enjoy. However, Something Wicked This Way Comes has been on my list for a couple years and I’m really looking forward to it. You know how I love a dark carnival/fair!
- *Tales – H.P. Lovecraft (Or any of his novels or other short story collections): My library actually has some of the short stories on audiobook, as well. I think I would love to listen to during Halloween week. I’m a Lovecraft noob, although I have played Arkham Horror, a tabletop board game that draws from Lovecraftian themes, stories and characters. Lovecraft is known for his slow build, focus on psychological elements and creepy atmosphere, so I’m sure it will be an excellent read. However, keep in mind that he has been blasted for his lack of diversity, mistreatment of women, and spreading mistruths about psychological conditions.
- Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling: Every year I rewatch the Harry Potter movies in the fall, and I generally pick one to re-read or listen to on audiobook. From magic to the horror of Voldemort, this book will definitely put you in the mood. Plus it’s kid-friendly and not really gory or anything. This year I am listening to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (my personal favorite). Jim Dale narrates this series, as well, and he does it wonderfully.
- The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern: The Night Circus is a constant on all of my favorite books lists, which generally change depending on my whims and what books I have read. Focusing on two young magicians pitted against each other on the public stage of “Le Cirque des Reves,” the story is what I envision when I think of a crisp fall day bleeding into a chilly, shadowy autumn night. I have read it several times and listened to Jim Dale narrate it and I still never get tired of it. It is also the reason I am drawn to books about dark carnivals/circuses/fairs, so now you know who to blame for that!
- It – Stephen King: This book is the reason I can’t read horror books, the reason I was terrified of flushing the toilet as a child, and the reason I am still mildly creeped out by clowns and balloons. Bottom line: You should definitely not read it if you are only 8 years old. But Stephen King is the master of horror and I couldn’t not put him on the list. But this is the least grisly (at least to me) of his “horror” books, so it will do nicely if you wish to read a Stephen King book this October. If you want something more terrifying, I would go with The Shining.
- The Library at Mount Char – Scott Hawkins: There are elements of occult here, as well as plenty of gore to shock you if that is what floats your boat. But the story is actually quite good, and will leave you guessing with each twist and turn. Let’s just say you’ll never look at the library the same way. (Read more thoughts in my mini-review here)
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman: This quick read about a boy encountering a family of what can only be described as witches (it’s not entirely made clear) is beautiful and definitely worth reading. This is for those that wish to read Gaiman but want a book that is meant for adults, not children.
- *Carter & Lovecraft – Jonathan L. Howard: I don’t read mysteries often, but I do enjoy the ones I end up reading. The catch is that there has to be some sort of twist on the classic murder mystery tale to draw me in. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, for example, has that precocious, tart-mouthed, poison-loving, 11-year-old, super-sleuth, Flavia de Luce. Carter & Lovecraft, on the other hand, is a procedural mystery that puts a former cop turned private investigator together with Emily Lovecraft, the last known descendent of author H.P. Lovecraft, to solve a batch of murders that are decidedly Lovecraftian in flavor. This one hasn’t published yet, but I’ll be getting reading the preview from NetGalley soon.
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Seth Grahame-Smith: If you want to throw in a little classic lit with your horror, than Seth Grahame-Smith has you covered. I have a confession: I have never read Pride and Prejudice. But I have read – and quite enjoyed – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is kind of the same thing, right? Grahame-Smith puts a lot of work in to emulating Jane Austen’s style of writing while incorporating zombie gore, so I’m going to go with yes.
- The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro: This book is all about the atmosphere, although there are plenty of monsters hidden within humanity in this gorgeous tale set in the age of chivalry. Ishiguro has a way with turning familiar tropes on their heads and using them to discuss issues that fascinate him, in this case guilt and memory. For those who really don’t want horror, but still want all the atmosphere of fall, The Buried Giant is for you. (Read my full review here).
What sort of books do you like to read to put you in the spirit of this season?