I’m finding it hard to hang up my Halloween hat and move on this year. It’s been such an awesome month. November will be just as cool – it’s birthday month! – but I don’t want to turn my back on spooky things just yet.
My first (and possibly only) Autumn book recommendation this year is this brilliant novel by one of my faves, Sarah Waters. I first read it on my honeymoon over seven years ago and vividly remember being frozen in fear in the middle of the night, having just read another chapter.
The Little Stranger focuses on the inhabitants of once grandiose Hundreds Hall, the Ayres family. Hundreds Hall is now crumbling, a shadow of its former self – and war-damaged Roderick and his sister Caroline are trying hard to keep the family afloat, and keep the truth of their dire situation a secret from their mother.
When local Doctor Faraday finds himself involved with the family, all manner of weirdness starts to spill into his life. What the heck is going on? I’m currently having a re-read in time for the movie adaptation coming later this month and it’s stunning.
It’s not just the truly spooky set up that leaves you wanting more, it’s the way Waters crafts a sentence. Her characters are so well written you really feel you know them after only a few moments and that makes you care what happens to them. Hundreds Hall is a vivid landmark in the mind thanks to the way she describes it – and I can’t wait to see what they’ve done with the film and the casting.
I recommend this because it’s perfect for an Autumn eve, once the sun’s gone down and the dinner plates have been cleared away. I love to read in the bath and this accompanies that well.
I’ll crack open a new bottle of bubble bath and light a candle too, why not?
The Little Stranger
Publisher: Virago (23 Aug. 2018)
Bought movie tie-in paperback (new)
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I read this book in tandem with my friend Heather and it was so much fun. We both raced through it in a couple of days and compared notes as we went. This book is impossible to put down, something authors are always quoted as saying for the cover of novels but in this case it’s true.
Anna Fox is a shut in who hasn’t left her home for ten solid months. Currently living alone, Anna moves dreamily from room to room within her own safe haven, only stopping to overdose on old Hollywood movies and to watch her neighbours through the window.
When she’s feeling up to it, she also offers her support to people like her on an online forum for agoraphobics. As a former child psychologist, she knows what she’s talking about. Sadly Anna is too haunted by her own past and mistakes to be any good at taking her own advice.
When a new family moves in across the way, Anna becomes infatuated with their day-to-day movements. But when she witnesses something earth-shattering her life is tipped all the way over and she must fight to prove she’s not a crazy bitch making shit up.
I really enjoyed the character of Anna and felt desperately sorry for her at times. Trapped in her own home there’s not a lot of freedom for our protagonist but she’s a goddamn fighter. The concept of the bat shit woman imagining things is not a new one but I feel as though the pace and plotting of this novel lifts it above the rest. The prose is beautiful and the characterisation well padded.
My sympathy is with Anna and her family and even though I thought I could see it all coming, it kept me guessing until the end. As an avid curtain twitcher myself, I really appreciated the Rear Window-esque snooper in Anna and her love of black and white noir doesn’t hurt either. It’s incredibly Hitchcockian and that can only ever be a good thing.
I strongly recommend this to anyone who loves a thriller.
The Woman in the Window
Publisher: HarperCollins (25 Jan. 2018)
Gifted hardback (new)
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It would be very hard for me to go in too deep on this book because it’s very hard to define. It’s stunning though; macabre, fascinating and eery as hell.
Marina is seven and has just become an orphan, after her parents are killed in a car accident. The same accident strips the skin from her ribs and leaves her body scarred for life. Her personal mantra has become “My father died instantly, my mother in the hospital” and she wheels it out whenever she’s asked to tell her story.
In the hospital, Marina is given a small spooky doll by the doctors and it becomes her constant companion, her confidante.
One day she arrives at the orphanage and creates a ripple amongst the little girls who already live there (less a ripple more a tidal wave, honestly). The girls’ obsession and their love for Marina while pure, isn’t always kind and they torture her daily with their teasing, their silence and their tricks. They steal her doll and deliver it back to her body part by body part, and bury what’s left in the ground.
But at night, everything is different. At night they play Marina’s game.
Based on a terrifying real-life event, Such Small Hands is a poetic horror story molded from the most beautiful prose I’ve read in a long time. It’s nightmarish and pretty at the same time, like some of the most appealing things in life and I couldn’t recommend it more. I hope it leaves you as breathless and creeped out as it did me.
Such Small Hands
Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd (3 Aug. 2017)
Gifted hardback (new)
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Kudos to Andrés Barba for his amazing author photo. Look at it! (above).
“She can’t be dead, MISERY CHASTAIN CANNOT BE DEAD!” ~ Annie Wilkes
The latest in my long overdue Stephen King Odyssey and one of the best so far.
When I shared that I was reading this on social media, some of my friends popped up to say how brilliant it is, even in comparison to the film – and they weren’t wrong. The adaptation is great and although it’s been a while since I saw it, I don’t remember it being as tense as the book. I guess your imagination will do that to you and it must be hard to capture the inner workings of a trapped man’s mind on film (even if the film is still terrifying, don’t get me wrong).
Misery is, of course, the story of how famous novelist Paul Sheldon comes to live in the home of ex-nurse Annie Wilkes, seriously injured and against his will.
Following a nasty car accident one snowy night in Colorado, Paul is rescued from the wreckage and dragged back to Annie’s where she nurses him back to consciousness. While there is nothing conventional about this set up, Annie’s former career affords her the skill to keep Paul alive and his pain (mostly) at bay.
Though Paul distrusts spooky Annie from the get-go, he reluctantly becomes dependent on her particular brand of health care, not to mention the very strong medication she has been plying him with. Did I mention that our very own Ms. Nightingale is also Paul’s “Number one fan”? What a coincidence, eh?
Nobody needs me to give away the rest of the story, since it’s a tale as old as time and if you haven’t read it, you totally should.
But Paul’s most famous fictional character, the titular Misery has just been killed off in his last novel.He’s keen to move onto new projects and put Misery to bed for good but when Annie finds out, she goes ape.
There’s only one thing for it as far as she’s concerned, and that’s to bring Misery back to life… I’ll leave the rest up to you.
I loved this book because it completely engulfs you, putting you in Paul’s shoes. Things could not be worse for him either. Not only is he a disabled prisoner aware of the expiry date above his head, he’s also being systematically tortured by the person who’s supposed to care for him. His only bargaining chip is his mind.
My only issue with the book is that I pictured James Caan as Paul Sheldon throughout and that was hard to shift. Further proof I let myself down as an adolescent by not reading more SK before watching the films.
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks (7 July 2011)
Bought paperback (new)
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I love me a Final Girl. The trope is one of my favourites, even though the rules of being a true FG could make your head spin clean off your neck.
Someone who hates the label though is Quincy Carpenter, the third survivor to join the infamous trio of the media dubbed Finals Girls. Comprised of Miss Carpenter (the amnesiac), Lisa Milner (the original) and Samantha Boyd (the enigma), this group of women share just one thing in common – they were all the last ones still standing after horrifying massacres.
Quincy is doing fine now, thank you very much. She’s moved on from the events of that night and even though there are massive chunks of memory missing, she’s faced her demons and come out the other side smiling. Now she’s a baking blogger in the big smoke with a handsome and supportive lawyer boyfriend and a nice home (paid for by insurance money from the deaths of all her friends, but still).
But are things as perfect as they seem? Given that this is a thriller I’m guessing we’re all here to witness the picture perfect world of our heroine unravel – and unravel it does.
When Lisa seemingly ends her own life one night, Quincy’s world is rocked – and it’s rocked even harder when Samantha Boyd turns up on her doorstep, fresh from a self-inflicted exile. And Samantha brings out a side of Quincy she never knew she had.
Is there more to Lisa’s suicide than meets the eye though – and what about the volatile Ms Boyd? Where’s she been and what’s she been doing with her life since she fought so hard for it all those years ago?
I will say that even though I enjoyed the premise of this story and the setting of Pine Cottage (described to us in flashback), it was very predictable. I am the worst plot-guessing person on this planet and hardly ever figure out an ending before it’s presented to me, so it says a lot that I clocked it from almost the beginning. Go me.
I could have described exactly the very last scene to you too so I think that says a lot. But, it’s still enjoyable, particularly if you have an interest in classic horror scenarios. The massacres take place in quite traditional horror movie settings and although the book is descriptive, it is not gratuitous. It tries to go deeper into the psychology of surviving an ordeal like these women have and I liked that.
It just could, and should have been so much better.
Publisher: Ebury Press (Fiction) (13 July 2017)
Bought hardback (new)
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I didn’t do so badly with my Autumn Reading List, crossing off all but one of the books I’d planned to read.
I’ve been reviewing them where I can on the #onewomanbookclub tag (which you can access via the menu up there at the top, if you wish). And now it’s Winter and that means I’m even less inclined to leave the confines of my cosy, messy flat unless I absolutely have to – perfect reading conditions.
Here are the books I’m planning to devour over the next few months. You might notice a theme:
I’m a few chapters in and this already has me hooked. I bought this because I thought it was the next book by The Girls author Emma Cline. It’s not, and I’m an idiot but it was a happy accident as this is written beautifully and has a sheen of mystique to it that I so far love.
Oh, the synopsis? Ruth Malone is an attractive single mother of two kids who go missing one day in 1965. When the police make a horrifying discovery, all eyes point to the woman in charge of their care – and her provocative appearance and ‘questionable” lifestyle do not go in her favour.
Because of course they don’t.
This book had me at ‘The Japanese Stieg Larsson’ tbh. Which is one of the taglines printed on the cover. I didn’t even look deeply into what it was about, just clicked buy and here we are.
For those interested this is Amazon’s synopsis, in a nutshell:
Yasuko lives a quiet life, working in a Tokyo bento shop, a good mother to her only child. But when her ex-husband appears at her door without warning one day, her comfortable world is shattered.
It’s well rated and it’s been compared to one of my favourite authors so I doubt I’ll be disappointed. I’m a massive fan of Asian cinema (mainly Korean) so I’m expecting to be blown away. No pressure, Mr Higashino.
I’m cheating a little bit by including this on the list as I’ve just finished it. I thought it was worth a mention anyway. I’m intrigued always by the concept of the Final Girl and this takes that a little bit further by offering us three real life versions.
When the original FG, Lisa seemingly kills herself, it’s up to her fellow club members to find out what the fudge happened, and why. Given that our main FG, Quincy Carpenter has a massive hole in her own memories of that night at Pine Cottage… she might already have more than her fair share to contend with.
I think I’m going to review this in a couple of days so you can find out if I like it or not. Spoiler alert – it was okay.
This was passed on to me by my lovely friend Alice and I can’t wait to get stuck in. She handed me a pile of horrid sounding thrillers which is both amazing and a little disconcerting. The comfort I get from reading/watching horror/thrillers is hard to explain and sometimes feels like my dirty little secret so when someone else just gets it, it is amazing but odd.
Alex Prévost – kidnapped, beaten, suspended from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse in a wooden cage – is in no position to bargain. Her abductor’s only desire is to watch her die.
Doesn’t sound like a walk in the park now, does it?
Another Japanese crime thriller that is meant to be unique and fantastic. I couldn’t be more in. Again, I haven’t really done too much digging about this one but I am expecting to be impressed.
For five days in January 1989, the parents of a seven-year-old Tokyo schoolgirl sat and listened to the demands of their daughter’s kidnapper. They would never learn his identity. They would never see their daughter again.
Sometimes, when I see a book has been recommended by the Richard and Judy Book Club it makes me want to avoid it. But this looks too good to pass up. Another book about family secrets and mysterious girls – delicious.
The girls of the Roanoke family – beautiful, rich, mysterious – seem to have it all. But there’s a dark truth about them that’s never spoken.
Last but not least, a book I’ve been intending to pick up for a long time, even before I saw the deeply weird film version. What Page Are You On mentioned it in their episode about book to film adaptations and I took from that that this is far more accessible than the Scarlett Johansson starring movie (which I loved but found very hard going).
I’m not a massive sci-fi nerd really (besides Star Wars) but I think the earthly setting and seductiveness of main character Isserley will keep me gripped. Here’s hoping.
What are you guys reading? Let me know!
I didn’t grow up with Stephen King, which seems odd to me now. I liked horror alright but I just never got around to plundering SK’s catalogue. In place of his classics I was all over Judy Bloom, Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins.
I guess I was a precocious kid in my reading tastes, I like the feeling of being more adult than my years, even if I didn’t understand most of it. I loved Dean Koontz too and the Sweet Valley High series (you can decide which is scarier).
In some ways I’m sad I don’t share the same nostalgic feelings my loved ones have for his stories but I’m in the happy position of having an awful lot of material to work through now. In the last few years I’ve done: The Shining and Doctor Sleep. Needful Things and Rose Madder.
More recently, the mammoth IT and Carrie. Next on my list is Mr. Mercedes. I’ve also got On Writing waiting for me on the shelf. It’s safe to say then that, along with the rest of the world who can’t get enough of his adaptations this year, I am very much into The King.
His books aren’t without criticism and he has written characters unflatteringly, AKA fat. See Carrie, her mother Mrs White, one of the kids’ mums in IT – more. Fat isn’t a problem as a descriptor obviously but there’s a way to do it. As I read more of his books I’m sure I will uncover more comments of this nature.
So King can be problematic (certainly for the fatphobia) but I love him. He’s such a compelling writer who taps into something deeper. Yes, it’s part nostalgia for the children we were, sometimes it’s guilt, hope, terror – magic. I don’t know if you can pinpoint exactly what it is about Stephen, all I know is that is one of the most satisfying relationships I’ve ever known. He’s part of me now and I’m so happy to have found him.
Which Stephen King stories are your favourite? 🎃🍂👻🍁🔪
Carrie White is no ordinary girl
Carrie is one of those stories I’ve been aware of since the beginning of time because of the Brian De Palma adaptation. It was a terrifying movie as a teenager and is still eerily sad today. I’d never picked up the book but as mentioned here, I was inspired to do so by a podcast I really love.
I couldn’t put Carrie down and devoured it in two days. The story is so familiar but the book is more nuanced (who knew?). Carrie’s tale is inter-spliced with witness reports (from Prom Night), reports on the telekinetic phenomenon and news reports from earlier incidents in Carrie’s psychic past – which I really enjoyed. It was very satisfying to get more of an insight into her character and that of her mother, who is awful, frankly.
You can’t really read this story without feeling regret for the life Carrie should’ve had, though those feelings are naturally counterbalanced with disgust and impatience for her, exactly the emotions stirred in her classmates and especially, Susan Snell. The book also makes me wonder how I would have been at school around a girl like this, and think back to how I was around anybody notably different. I’m sure I wasn’t always nice as a kid and I think this story also makes you feel guilt for past actions, so from the off you’re already in Sue’s shoes. It’s an unsettling feeling.
We all know Carrie’s story by now so I don’t need to tell you how is all pans out. My favourite parts are often her inner monologue, those give you more insight in to how she feels during certain events. Prom night is so hopeful and heartbreaking, and as I read it I willed the ending to change, that Carrie would be fine and go on to live a fulfilling excellent life. Alas.
Carrie is a fat girl in the book (which I didn’t know until recently). In the film versions she has always been skinny and as has Mrs White, but in Stephen King’s novel they are both grotesque in part because they are fat. Carrie is repeatedly described as bovine and Mrs White was left on the shelf because she was large (and also a religious fanatic, if we’re being honest). King often writes characters as hideously fat as though that’s the worst thing they could be and of course I don’t like it.
Carrie is picked on because she’s weird and her looks make her an easy target for the bullies but apart from the odd slur, no more reference is made to her size, at least by her classmates. Although I see it as problematic, it could have been a lot worse. Again, I’m not crazy about the fatphobia in King’s books and I’m sure I have a lot more to uncover as I work my way through more of his novels.
I do love King and he’s on my mind lately. He’s not perfect but he’s one of the greatest storytellers I know and this so far is probably his best.
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks (13 Oct. 2011)
Bought paperback (new)
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In the spirit of Fall, colder evenings and crispy clean duvet covers, I added this crime thriller to my Autumn Reading List.
It’s recently been adapted for the big screen which could be interesting, though I’ll probably wait to stream it at home. There’s talk of it not really living up to the book – which is pretty good actually. It’s no Red Dragon, obviously but then what is?
The Snowman is Detective Harry Hole’s 7th outing but this is my first time meeting him. He is a damaged soul (but of course) haunted by a series of events that claimed the lives of several of his colleagues. He’s also just out of broken relationship that might not be as over as they think – though most of his woes are only touched upon briefly because our anti-hero has more on his mind, namely the uncovering and capture of Norway’s first serial killer.
The tale of The Snowman kicks off with the disappearance of a young mother. In her place is a small snowman constructed on the front lawn, her pink woolen scarf wrapped around its neck. Inside its belly is the missing woman’s mobile phone. This disappearance corresponds conveniently with a letter received by Harry Hole from a killer calling himself The Snowman – but where is the woman? And who is The not-that-terrifying-sounding Snowman?
What follows is a series of missing women, some of whom turn up dead and dismembered pretty quickly – at every crime scene Hole finds SM’s signature: a snowman. Hole entrusts his brilliant new colleague Katrine Bratt with the task of finding a connection between all the women and she does: all are mothers and have dealings with a very discreet clinic where all the kids are patients. Hmmm.
Luckily for Norway, Hole is a dog with a bone and will stop at nothing to catch The Snowman. Unfortunately, there are lots of suspects and subsequent accusations about who is responsible for the murders being thrown around, some hitting closer to home than others. Will Hole get his man? Or will the case kill him in the process?
I enjoyed this well enough. There’s a lot to like about it, even though by the climax I felt a little fatigued, there are three prime suspects who all turn out to be innocent. I had an inkling in the back of my mind of who it was but it feels like forever before we get there.
Hole is a weathered and fucked-up character with demons in his past. He is the best in the business, unorthodox in his approach, something of a loose cannon and because of all this he has lots in common with some of the best literary detectives.
The female characters are pretty liberal though they’re judged harshly for some of their behaviour through the eyes of The Snowman. Their fates are definitely of a misogynistic nature and that’s the point here. I’m not sure if Katrine Bratt goes on to appear in any of the later books but she’s a strong character despite the fact that an awful lot of effort goes into describing her looks. Rakel too is pretty fun, even if she can’t keep away from Hole for love nor money.
All in all, this is good gory fun and I might be tempted to pick up another Jo Nesbo in the future.
Publisher: Vintage (6 Nov. 2014)
Bought paperback (new)