Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.
A freebie, as I understand it, is any list that broadly fits into the umbrella of Hallowe’en. And, yes, I do prefer it with the apostrophe! So how will I interpret that? I don’t want to limit myself to books set on Hallowe’en because, bluntly, none come to mind! And what does Hallowe’en mean, after all? As well as being the eve of All Hallows’ Day, we also hold echoes of the pre-Christian Celtic Samhain – a liminal celebration holding back the dark days of winter, lighting bonfires, celebrating the dead and the other, when fairies and sprites and spirits can slip more easily into our mundane world.
And as the clocks have gone back, the evenings grown dark, and the heating has been switched on – and if we had a fireplace, it would have been lit – there is certainly an autumnal, Hallowe’en feel to the world!
Hardinge is a delight and a pleasure to read and this is probably her most successful novel in which her main character slow comes to the realisation that she is not in fact the person she believed she was but an otherworldly puppet, from the Underbelly. There are so may creepy and uncanny moments – oh! the screaming dolls! – but I loved her tears.
At the jetty’s edge Not-Triss’s legs gave way and she dropped to her knees. Her sobs sounded more human now at least. Tears misted her vision now, but they stung bitterly and clogged her lashes. When she dabbed at her eyes, the tears came away in long, clinging strands, not blots of salt water. She stared at the gleaming gluey threads in confusion before realizing what they were.
Spider-silk. She was weeping spider-silk.
From Amazon, the book summary is
When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out.
Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest to find the truth she must travel into the terrifying Underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family – before it’s too late . . .
2. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
Beautifully imagined, Miltonic and Blakean, vivid. And first published in 1995? How did these wonderful books get so old? They used to be the big thing! With the new trilogy – The Book of Dust – in the process of being published, and I finished The Secret Commonwealth last night, so it is waiting for a review, hopefully this evening – spoilers, I liked it!
Northern Lights introduces Lyra, an orphan, who lives in a parallel universe in which science, theology and magic are entwined. Lyra’s search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children and turns into a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust. In The Subtle Knife she is joined on her journey by Will, a boy who possesses a knife that can cut windows between worlds. As Lyra learns the truth about her parents and her prophesied destiny, the two young people are caught up in a war against celestial powers that ranges across many worlds and leads to a thrilling conclusion in The Amber Spyglass.
The epic story Pullman tells is not only a spellbinding adventure featuring armoured polar bears, magical devices, witches and daemons, it is also an audacious and profound re-imagining of Milton’s Paradise Lost. An utterly entrancing blend of metaphysical speculation and bravura storytelling, HIS DARK MATERIALS is a monumental and enduring achievement.
3. House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewsky
A bonkers, bizarre, horrifying novel. Dizzying. I usually find the word “cult” to describe anything rather off-putting – even if I often then end up loving the cult thing – and this is certainly worth exploring. The structure of the book is as impossible as the structure of the house at the heart of it!
A young couple – Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Will Navidson and his partner Karen Green – move into a small home on Ash Tree Lane.
But something is terribly wrong – their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Neither Will nor Karen are prepared to face the consequences of this impossibility.
What happens next is loosely recorded on videotapes and interviews, leading to a compilation of the definitive work on the events on Ash Tree Lane, unveiling a thrilling and terrifying history.
Loose sheets, stained napkins and crammed notebooks prove to be far more than the ramblings of a crazy old man . . .
A little cheeky perhaps to include a currently reading book, but, there we go! It is odd how many of this year’s Booker Prize shortlist were riffing off the past: Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte and Don Quixote, Jeanette Winterson and Frankenstein, Margaret Atwood and, well, Margaret Atwood…. But this novel alternates between Mary Shelley’s birth of Frankenstein in the most exquisite prose, and Ry Shelley a transgender doctor in post-Brexit Britain exploring the growth of AI and non-organic post-human life. Once again, a liminal book, exploring and breaking boundaries.
In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love – against their better judgement – with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI.
Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with Mum again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere.
Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryonics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead… but waiting to return to life.
But the scene is set in 1816, when nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley writes a story about creating a non-biological life-form. ‘Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.’
What will happen when homo sapiens is no longer the smartest being on the planet? Jeanette Winterson shows us how much closer we are to that future than we realise. Funny and furious, bold and clear-sighted, Frankissstein is a love story about life itself.
Anything by Ali Smith could be included in here: she is beautifully fluid in her writing and her characters. Reading her is a hauntingly transformative experience. Autumn or Winter, perhaps, are more obviously ghostly stories, but this is a wonderful companion to Frankissstein: time, gender, death, identity are all fluid and mutable and life bleeds into art and vice versa.
Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith’s novels are like nothing else.
How to be both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real – and all life’s givens get given a second chance.
6. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
We probably need at least one classic Gothic novel on the list – and any of them are obviously perfect: Frankenstein, or Dracula are (quite rightly) the big heavy hitters. But Jekyll and Hyde probably fits most neatly into the list, as it is evolving. Genuinely creepy, perhaps the product of a fevered dream, and exploring once again the notion of identity and breaking the barriers between the civilised and bestial. Not a perfect book but….
7. The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
Waters “out-Dickens Dickens is one phrase I’ve heard more than once, albeit more often applied to her earlier settings, Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet. The Little Stranger is set in the post-war years as gender roles and social class are slowly disintegrating, as is perhaps the sanity or the safety of the Ayres family, clinging onto their Hundreds Hall. Again, a genuinely creepy thoughtful evocative novel.
One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners—mother, son, and daughter—are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.
There is no other word for this novel.
Well, there are. Horrifyingly honest, heart wrenchingly painful, lyrical, visceral in its treatment of love and loss and parenthood and otherness.
Porter’s other book, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, was equally sublime.
There’s a village an hour from London. It’s no different from many others today: one pub, one church, redbrick cottages, some public housing, and a few larger houses dotted about. Voices rise up, as they might anywhere, speaking of loving and needing and working and dying and walking the dogs. This village belongs to the people who live in it, to the land and to the land’s past.
It also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort, a mythical figure local schoolchildren used to draw as green and leafy, choked by tendrils growing out of his mouth, who awakens after a glorious nap. He is listening to this twenty-first-century village, to its symphony of talk: drunken confessions, gossip traded on the street corner, fretful conversations in living rooms. He is listening, intently, for a mischievous, ethereal boy whose parents have recently made the village their home. Lanny.
With Lanny, Max Porter extends the potent and magical space he created in Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. This brilliant novel will ensorcell readers with its anarchic energy, with its bewitching tapestry of fabulism and domestic drama. Lanny is a ringing defense of creativity, spirit, and the generative forces that often seem under assault in the contemporary world, and it solidifies Porter’s reputation as one of the most daring and sensitive writers of his generation.
Melmoth the Wanderer was a lovely and underrated Gothic novel, and Perry’s Melmoth was fascinatingly creepy and challenging to us as the reader. What guilt haunts each of us? How many little cruelties do we commit, how often are we willfully blind to and complicit in others’ cruelties? And what would that guilt, personified, look like?
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.
Exquisitely written, and gripping until the very last page, this is a masterpiece of moral complexity, asking us profound questions about mercy, redemption, and how to make the best of our conflicted world.
This is a wonderfully gorgeous book – one that I recommend to anyone! A meditation on life and its value. A thriller. A creepy and powerful experience. Just the word “snow” imbued with so much power!
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.
What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?
Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.
So, there we have it. A list of books which may not be set at, feature or even reference Hallowe’en, nor witches or pumpkins, neither tricking nor treating. But, for me, all very Hallowe’en books to be read curled up under a blanket in front of the (alas imaginary but otherwise) roaring fire with a cup of mulled wine.
Moving into November, the list of topics until the end of the year currently stands at
November 5: Books That Give Off Autumn Vibes (Autumn scenes/colors on the cover, autumn atmosphere, etc.)
November 12: Favorite Bookmarks
November 19: Changes In My Reading Life (Maybe you like different genres or topics, maybe you read faster than you used to, maybe you only like standalones now)
November 26: Thankful Freebie
December 3: Holiday Reads (Books you love reading during the holiday season.)
December 10: Freebie
December 17: Winter TBR
December 24: Books I Hope to Find Under My Tree
December 31: Favorite Books I Read In 2019