Hurrah, my favourite month of all the year has finally come around! October I heart you, with your mists and mellow fruitfulness, with your reruns of ‘Hocus Pocus’, and ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost’, with your Pumpkin-Spice-Latte mania (even though I don’t even drink PSLs any more,) with your crunchy golden leaves and your ghostly goings on (even though, um, in real life any mention of ghosts or anything horror-related petrifies me. :D) Ok, so clearly I am a walking contradiction but still, we can all agree that October has got a LOT going for it- not least of all, Halloween. With Halloween approaching ever closer, I’ve decided to do a special post listing my top books for some ghoulishly great writing. Draw the curtains, lock the doors, check under the bed, and prepare to be thrilled, chilled and perhaps even just a leetle leeeetle bit scared…
1. ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker
Blurb from Amazon:
Dracula is an 1897 Gothic horror novel by Irish author Bram Stoker. Famous for introducing the character of the vampire Count Dracula, the novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England so he may find new blood and spread undead curse, and the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Dracula has been assigned to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. The novel touches on themes such as the role of women in Victorian culture, sexual conventions, immigration, colonialism, and post-colonialism. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, he defined its modern form, and the novel has spawned numerous theatrical, film and television interpretations.
Okay, so let’s start off with the daddy of all Halloween-reads, and the legend of all vampire legends. It may be a bit slow in parts, and it is certainly very much of its time, but ‘Dracula’ is a true classic, and one that has spawned a legion of films, books, short stories, artworks, fanfic…you name it. Despite having written two vampire novels myself, (**shameless plug**) I only properly read this a couple of years ago, and was swept away by it’s fabulously Gothic atmosphere- you’ll never look at Whitby in the same way again- it’s deeply Freudian undertones, and the depiction of Lucy Westernra as the ‘Bloofer Lady’- a beautiful Victorian socialite-of-sorts, who devolves into a bloodthirsty vampire, preying only on children. Oh, and who can forget the blatant homoeroticism between Jonathan Harker (who’s a bit annoying, IMO) and predatory half-wolf Dracula himself? Spine-tingling indeed.
Also: If you are a Dracula super-fan, you may want to check out recent TV adaptation starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the nefarious, seductive vampire to rule all vampires. I was particularly impressed with the character of Lucy- played by actress Katie McGrath- and wrote an article on it for the Dark Gothic Resurrected ezine. You can read the original article here, and find my blog post on it here. Still want more? Check out my review of Bram Stoker’s short story, ‘Dracula’s Guest,’ and my review of Kim Newman’s ‘Anno Dracula’ for more fangtastic thrills!
2. ‘The Vampire Lestat’ by Anne Rice
Blurb from GoodReads:
Once an aristocrat in the heady days of pre-revolutionary France, now Lestat is a rockstar in the demonic, shimmering 1980s. He rushes through the centuries in search of others like him, seeking answers to the mystery of his terrifying exsitence. His story, the second volume in Anne Rice’s best-selling Vampire Chronicles, is mesmerizing, passionate, and thrilling.
I actually prefer this to its arguably better-known predecessor, ‘An Interview with the Vampire’, as I think the witty, seductive, golden-haired blue-eyed vampire Lestat de Lioncourt is far more engaging than Louis Pont de Lac, his philosophical vampire protegee. This follows Lestat’s journey from penniless French aristocrat before the Revolution (eek, I sense a guillotine about to slam down!) to gorgeous, unashamedly camp, clearly-in-love-with-Louis vampire princeling. (Yes I know, it’s a lot to take in.) Although I also feel the novel could be whittled down considerably- in all honestly, I doubt whether we really need all the theologizing and all of Lestat and Louis’s ‘Is my soul daaaaaamned because I am a vampiiiiire?’ groanings and moanings.
At times it’s not a simple read, but characters such as Gabrielle (who has an increasingly creepy co-dependent relationship with her son, Lestat) and Lestat’s CLEARLY GAY violin-playing boyfriend, Nicholas, make it worthwhile. I love how all the characters of Rice’s ‘Vampire Chronicles’ are interconnected, and how you see each of their transitions, and the struggles they each face. The opening chapter- where Lestat defends his family’s estate from ravenous wolves- is absolutely chilling. (Plus, it has one of my favourite opening lines EVER. And NO I’m not going to tell you what it is- you’ll just have to read it.) Who doesn’t want to read about Lestat the Wolf Killer?
3. ‘Lost Souls’ by Poppy Z. Brite
Blurb from GoodReads:
At a club in Missing Mile, N.C., the children of the night gather, dressed in black, looking for acceptance. Among them are Ghost, who sees what others do not. Ann, longing for love, and Jason, whose real name is Nothing, newly awakened to an ancient, deathless truth about his father, and himself.
Others are coming to Missing Mile tonight. Three beautiful, hip vagabonds – Molochai, Twig, and the seductive Zillah (whose eyes are as green as limes) are on their own lost journey; slaking their ancient thirst for blood, looking for supple young flesh.
They find it in Nothing and Ann, leading them on a mad, illicit road trip south to New Orleans. Over miles of dark highway, Ghost pursues, his powers guiding him on a journey to reach his destiny, to save Ann from her new companions, to save Nothing from himself…
Followers of my other blog- the official blog for my own novel, ‘The Breathing Ghosts’– may already be familiar with this novel, as I mentioned it in a post I wrote a while back, on the links between vampires and scent. Be warned, this novel is DARK: it’s a sensual, creeping, at-times-blood-curdling horror set in steamy bars and clubs of New Orleans, where I believe Brite once lived. If you’re looking for something to really unsettle you, this is it, my friends. Murder, brutal rape, sex, drugs, father-son incest (all together now: AAARGH! YUCK!!) , and heaps of rock and roll. It follows a fledgling vampire named, memorably, Nothing, and the pull he feels towards the vampire-he-doesn’t-yet-know-is-his-own-father, the cruel, bloodthirsty, fiendishly sensual Zillah. No-one can resist Zillah, or his absinthe-green eyes. Memorable other characters also include vampire-with-a-heart Christian, the ethereal nomadic human musician Ghost, who- like many the characters within ‘Lost Souls’- is most likely gay, but struggling to express it. This is a deep dark tale of sexuality, sexual violence, bloodlust and vampirism, steeped in a fug of cigarette smoke, green chartreuse and hidden passions. (The author gets extra kudos for having such a great name as Poppy Z. Brite.)
4. ‘The Evil Seed’ by Joanne Harris
Blurb from GoodReads:
It’s never easy to face the fact that a man you once loved passionately has found the girl of his dreams, as Alice discovers when Joe introduces her to his new girlfriend Ginny. Jealous, Alice is repelled by Ginny – an ethereal beauty with a sinister group of friends.
Then Alice finds an old diary hidden away in Ginny’s room and reads about Daniel Holmes and his friend Robert and the mysterious woman who bewitched them both – Rosemary Virginia Ashley, buried in Grantchester churchyard half a century ago – buried but far from forgotten.
As the stories intertwine, past and present are merged into one; Alice comes to realize that her instinctive hatred of Joe’s new girlfriend may not just be due to jealousy as she’s plunged into a nightmare world of obsession, revenge, seduction – and blood.
Here we move from sultry New Orleans to picturesque Oxford, England- but the tone is by no means lighter. Inspired by the dark sensuality of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, ‘The Evil Seed’ focuses on a young, imaginative artist named Alice, who becomes enthralled by a mysterious and dangerous woman named Ginny. Art, love and vampirism all collide with life-shattering consequences. Read my full review here.
5. ‘Practical Magic’ by Alice Hoffman
Blurb from GoodReads:
When the beautiful and precocious sisters Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned at a young age, they are taken to a small Massachusetts town to be raised by their eccentric aunts, who happen to dwell in the darkest, eeriest house in town. As they become more aware of their aunts’ mysterious and sometimes frightening powers — and as their own powers begin to surface — the sisters grow determined to escape their strange upbringing by blending into “normal” society.
But both find that they cannot elude their magic-filled past. And when trouble strikes — in the form of a menacing backyard ghost — the sisters must not only reunite three generations of Owens women but embrace their magic as a gift — and their key to a future of love and passion. Funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic, Practical Magic is bewitching entertainment — Alice Hoffman at her spectacular best.
This is one of my favourite films, and the book is very good too- full of Hoffman’s characteristic magical realism, whimsy and memorable descriptions. Here, a small suburban American town becomes a hotbed of tide-turning magic, charms and insipid rumours. Three generations of magical women- including clever, kind Sally and her rebellious sister, Gillian- are described within it- aunts, nieces, daughters, and yet for me it is the wild-at-heart aunts who stand out for me. Want to know more? Read my full review here.
6. ‘The Casquette Girls’ by Alys Arden (2015)
Blurb from GoodReads:
Seven girls tied by time.
Five powers that bind.
One curse to lock the horror away.
One attic to keep the monsters at bay.
After the storm of the century rips apart New Orleans, sixteen-year-old Adele Le Moyne wants nothing more than her now silent city to return to normal. But with home resembling a war zone, a parish-wide curfew, and mysterious new faces lurking in the abandoned French Quarter, normal needs a new definition.
As the city murder rate soars, Adele finds herself tangled in a web of magic that weaves back to her own ancestors. Caught in a hurricane of myths and monsters, who can she trust when everyone has a secret and keeping them can mean life or death? Unless . . . you’re immortal.
Hey, guess what, we’re back in New Orleans with this one! I have yet to read ALL of this, but so far, what I have read I’ve REALLY enjoyed- set in modern-day New Orleans, by a writer who used to live in New Orleans herself, it is dripping in detail and mystique. It is fully-fleshed out paranormal YA, drenched in romance, history, creepy ghost stories and magic, and its focus on vampires and witches really reminds me of ‘The Originals’ TV series (the arguably-even-more-successful-even-better spin off of teen drama ‘The Vampire Diaries’, also set in New Orleans.)
I’m intending to write a review of this AMAZING book once I’ve finished reading it, but so far it’s definitely living up to all the bookstagram/blogosphere hype. And come on, who doesn’t love New Orleans?
7. ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ by Washington Irving (1820)
Blurb from GoodReads:
Headless horsemen were staples of Northern European storytelling, featuring in German, Irish (e.g. Dullahan), Scandinavian (e.g. the Wild Hunt) and English legends and were included in Robert Burns’s “Tam o’ Shanter” (1790), and Burger’s Der Wilde Jager, translated as The Wild Huntsman (1796). Usually viewed as omens of ill-fortune for those who chose to disregard their apparitions, these specters found their victims in proud, scheming persons and characters with hubris and arrogance. The chief part of the stories, however, turned upon the favorite specter of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman, who had been heard several times of late, patrolling the country; and, it was said, tethered his horse nightly among the graves in the churchyard. The story was immediately matched by a thrice marvelous adventure of Brom Bones, who made light of the Galloping Hessian as an arrant jockey. He affirmed that on returning one night from the neighboring village of Sing Sing, he had been overtaken by this midnight trooper; that he had offered to race with him for a bowl of punch and should have won it too, for Daredevil beat the goblin horse all hollow, but just as they came to the church bridge, the Hessian bolted, and vanished in a flash of fire. All these tales, told in that drowsy undertone with which men talk in the dark, the countenances of the listeners only now and then receiving a casual gleam from the glare of a pipe, sank deep in the mind of Ichabod.
Ok, so I suppose this isn’t a book, as it’s actually a teeny-weeny short story (about 40 pages,) but I couldn’t resist including it- not when master-of-creepiness himself, Tim Burton, has turned it into a feature film. The original short story is surprisingly funny in parts- Ichabod’s yearning for Katrina is hilarious- as well as being Gothic, atmospheric, historical and a great example of early American writing. I read this in one sitting, and it is highly recommended for a chilly late October evening by the fireside. Enjoy!
Note: All images and gifs are from Tumblr