In my house, autumn begins September first.
Yes, I realize that meteorologically, autumn doesn’t begin until the equinox; but once I flip the calendar page over - it’s FALL, y’all. I don’t care if it is ninety-odd degrees outside (which it often is), and I’m sweating myself silly; in my mind I am preparing for my harvest decor outside (gourds and corn fodder, of course), mentally unpacking my sweaters and boots from the back of the closet, and starting to think about a Halloween costume. I’m an indoors gal - I prefer the comfort of the air-conditioned indoors, especially if it’s hot outside. However, come September, I look forward to the days I can take a book and a big cuppa something warm outside to drink and post up for a while and not break a sweat. Basically, I’m every goofy gal who gets all misty-eyed the moment they spot the first tinges of gold and scarlet among the leaves.
September is also the start of Spooky Season. As I said, Halloween is already in the back of my mind. I’ve always ascribed to the Neil Gaiman philosophy of wardrobe - “I will continue to wear black until they invent a darker color.” - so I’m only a broom away from a witchy costume at the drop of a (pointy) hat. Dusk comes sooner each day, for me, that is a perfect time to hunker down with a chilling, spooky read. So even though we are eight weeks out from Halloween, I have a list of some great books to get your own Spooky Season started off right.
Sleeping Beauties - Stephen King and Owen King
Set in the fictional town of Dooling, WV; a mysterious woman is involved in a murder/arson involving two men operating a meth lab. When the woman (Eve) is arrested and placed in the Dooling Correctional Institute for Women, women around the world are succumbing to a mysterious illness in which they fall into a comatose-like sleep and then are wrapped in a wispy cocoon. It is quickly discovered that trying to remove the women from their pods and rousing them results in the women awakening as homicidal fiends. The law enforcement officers of Dooling figure out that Eve has something to do with the illness, and work to figure out how to wake the women of the world up without creating an entire gender bent on murder and terror. While all this is going on in Dooling, the women co-exist in a separate dimension known only as the Other Place, which is exactly like Dooling, but seemingly post-apocalyptic.
Beloved - Toni Morrison
Set in Cincinnati, Ohio shortly after the end of slavery, Beloved follows the lives of a family living at 124 Bluestone Road. The house is haunted. Set he’s two sons fled the home at the age of thirteen to escape the spirit which embodies chaos in the house, throwing objects around and generally making life difficult for the family. Et he’s daughter Denver refuses to leave the house, despite the spirit that seems set to ruin their lives.
Before their emancipation, Sethe and Paul D. were enslaved in Kentucky at a plantation known as Sweet Home. Paul D. Comes to Bluestone Road looking for a place to stay awhile. He convinces Denver to leave the house, finally; and when they return to the house, a young woman is sitting on the porch. She refers to herself only as Beloved. Paul is restless in the home and resorts to sleeping in various locations around the home, trying to escape the discomfort he feels, especially inside the house. One night as he sleeps in the woodshed, Beloved comes to him and seduces him. As they make love, he experiences vivid and terrible flashbacks. In an attempt to separate himself from Beloved, Paul D. Convinces Sethe that they should start a family together. Sethe then is forced to admit that years earlier, as the Civil War ended and her family tried to flee to the safety of Ohio, Sethe and her family were cornered by men intent on returning them to Sweet Home. Rather than allow her children to be returned to a life of enslavement, she attempts to kill her children, succeeding only in killing her oldest. Sethe admits that she believes the woman who has appeared to them is the spirit of that child because of the simple engraving she could afford for the child’s headstone, which read only “BELOVED.”
Drood - Dan Simmons
Set in Victorian London, Drood is written as a posthumous letters to an unknown recipient detailing the last years in the life of Charles Dickens as witnessed by Wilkie Collins. Dickens tells Collins of his first sighting of the Drood among the wreckage of the Staplehurst train disaster. Dicken describes to Collins a ghoulish figure with a ruined face wandering around the wreckage of the train hurrying the injured to a death that not all would necessarily were bound to meet so immediately. As he copes with the post-traumatic stress of surviving the train disaster, Dickens becomes obsessed with the Drood, and Collins soon shares in this obsession with his friend and colleague. As Dickens moves on with his life and lucrative career, touring Europe on reading tours, Collins becomes increasingly jealous and obsessed with Dickens. Collins spends time chasing the legend of the Drood through crypts and the darkest regions of London. Throughout the tale, you begin to wonder how reliable a narrator Collins actually is, as much of his story seems to be half-dreamt or hallucinated through thick clouds of opium.
The Girl With All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
Years after humanity has been nearly destroyed by an infection of the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (which is a real thing, making this story terrifying on a deeper level),all that is left are a few guarded compounds of healthy humans, junkers (humans desperately scavenging and scraping to survive), and hungries - mindless humans who have been infected with O. unilateralis who crave human flesh. At the Beacon, England compound where the story originates scientists have been working nearly two decades to find a cure for the fungal infection. Carefully guarded are a small group of hungries who have somehow maintained their mental faculties despite being infected. The lead scientist Dr. Caldwell believes she is close to a cure, and resorts to vivisecting some of the child hungries kept imprisoned within the compound. Melanie is a ten year old hungry with a genius IQ, who does not realize she is any different than the adults around her. As Dr. Caldwell prepares to put Melanie under the knife, a pack of junkers attack the compound, forcing several of the adults to flee into the countryside. They bring Melanie along as a sort of guard dog who can both navigate around packs of hungries and protect the uninflected humans.
No Spooky Season is complete without visiting a few of the classics. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and any of the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe perfectly suited to chilling the air around you, even if the thermometer is still hovering in the eighties or nineties.
And just a note, unrelated to books, but definitely topical regarding Spooky Season: Lovecraft Country on HBO/HBOMAX is delightfully spooky. I’m really enjoying watching the story unfold, though I am seriously considering getting the audiobook and reading it before I watch another episode!
Also, we’re giving away some fun spooky stuff on our Facebook page - https://tinyurl.com/yywpryvr - check it out!