As The Evenings Draw In, R.I.P. VIII Begins…


“Stories can make us look back over our shoulders and question every creak and groan on a dark, quiet night. Stories can cause our hearts to race with ever-increasing tension as we forgo sleep to rush towards a surprising conclusion. Stories can make us suspicious of every character as we challenge the protagonist to be the first to solve the crime. Stories can make us sleep with the lights on, make us pull the covers just a little bit tighter, and can make every shadow seem more menacing than they ever have before….

…. there is something delicious about the ability of the printed word to give us a fright. At no time of the year is this more of a delight than when Summer heat turns to Autumn chill as the days become ever darker.”

The annual invitation from Stainless Steel Droppings to read ….

Dark Fantasy

…. is not to be resisted, and I have a wonderful pool of books on hand ….

The Skull and the Nightingale by Michael Irwin

“When Richard Fenwick returns to London, his wealthy godfather, James Gilbert, has an unexpected proposition. Gilbert has led a sedate life in Worcestershire, but feels the urge to experience, even vicariously, the extremes of human feeling: love, passion, and something much more sinister …”

My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart (for Mary Stewart Reading Week)

“Nothing ever happened to Camilla Haven — until a stranger approached her in a crowded Athens café, handed her the keys to a black car parked by the curb, and whispered, “A matter of life and death.”….”

Hell! Said the Duchess by Michael Arlen

“A female killer stalks the streets of London, sleeping with young men before slashing their throats and mutilating their bodies. The crimes have baffled the police and enraged Londoners, who demand the murderer’s arrest. Mary, Duchess of Dove, a gentle young widow who is beloved by all who know her, seems an unlikely suspect, but the clues all point to her ….”

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution ….”

The Unforgiving by Charlotte Cory

“The distinguished architect Edward Glass has been recently widowed – with great inconvenience to himself. He impulsively marries Mrs Elizabeth Cathcart, a young widow he knows almost nothing about ….”

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R King

“The missing person in question is Philippa Crosby, a twenty-two year old from Boston who has been living in Paris, modelling and acting. Her family became alarmed when she stopped all communications, and Stuyvesant agreed to track her down. He wholly expects to find her in the arms of some up-and-coming artist, perhaps experimenting with the decadent lifestyle …”

He Arrived at Dusk by Ruby Ferguson

“From the moment William Mertoun arrives to catalogue the library at Colonel Barr’s old mansion on the desolate Northumbrian moors, he senses something is terribly wrong. Barr’s brother Ian has just died, mysteriously and violently, and the Colonel himself is hidden away in a locked room, to which his sinister nurse denies all access ….”

The Family Thief by Annabel Markova

“As Iolanthe and Carol grow up, Iolanthe begins to wonder how well she ever knew her foster sister, and soon her loyalties are tested to destruction in order to save her parents’ marriage, and the family itself ….”

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

“In 1878, two young stage magicians clash in the dark during the course of a fraudulent séance. From this moment on, their lives become webs of deceit and revelation as they vie to outwit and expose one another ….”

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

” Diana Bishop, descended from a line of powerful witches, and long-lived vampire Matthew Clairmont have broken the laws dividing creatures. When Diana discovered a significant alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, she sparked a struggle in which they became bound. Now the fragile coexistence of witches, daemons, vampires and humans is dangerously threatened ….”

And I’ve pulled out my Virago ghost story anthologies too …

Now tell me, do you have seasonal reading plans?

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

When I picked up A Discovery of Witches, a tale of witches, vampires, daemons and the like, told over 688 pages, I knew that things would go one of two ways. I would either throw in the towel very quickly or I would be swept away and race through the pages.

I’m pleased to be able to say that it was the latter.

I raced through A Discovery of Witches and, though it had failings, I loved it anyway.

It helped, I’m sure, that the story began with a book in a library.

“The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable. To an ordinary historian it would have looked no different from hundreds of other manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, ancient and worn, but I knew there was something odd about it from the moment I collected it”.

That book was requested by Diana Bishop, a historian from Harvard, who is visiting Oxford to further her research into the history of alchemy.

That book had been long-lost, but it reappeared because Diana is also a witch.  A witch descended from long and distinguished line, going back to the Bishops and Proctors of the Salem Witch Trials.

That book drew out the magical powers that Diana had long fought to suppress. And it drew the attention of others – witches, vampires, daemons – who all wanted the knowledge it held, and would go to extraordinary lengths to get it.

It soon became clear that Diana was in serious danger.

Matthew Clairmont, a distinguishes academic and a vampire since the early middle ages, became her protector. He had beauty, elegance, taste, wealth, and centuries of experience and knowledge to call upon. But he was a vampire, with all that entails.

Diana and Matthew completely contravened the ancient laws concerning relationships between different creatures, as they fell in love, as they struggled to evade their enemies, as they tried to uncover the secrets contained in that mysterious book …

The mixture of history, mystery, adventure and romance was wonderful.

Deborah Harkness writes very well, and it is clear that she has done so much research, that she loves what she writes, and that she has attended to every detail.

The world that she has created is so rich and perfectly realised. Characters, locations, cultures – everything!  I found so much to love as the story unfolded and the big picture grew and grew.

I loved the juxtaposition of the mundane and the fantastical: witches on yoga mats, for example!

I loved the  wealth of history, that Diana knew through books and Matthew knew through experience.

I loved the myriad possibilities were opened up by some very clever plotting.

And most of all I loved the wonderful storytelling and the world I was drawn into.

At times the story got bogged down: a few too many romantic clichés, a few too many irrelevant details. But I held on. Because I was enjoying a wonderful entertainment. Because I never stopped wanting to know what would happen next.

I was hooked until the very end. An ending that is also the beginning of a bigger story.

It left me still wanting to know what happens next, so roll on the second book in the trilogy!

As Summer Draws to a Close, RIP VI Begins …

Summer is fading, the temperature is dropping, and the evenings are drawing in. Autumn is approaching, bring with it the sixth annual RIP challenge.

A wonderful opportunity to read mystery,suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror, supernatural…

“Regardless of what my thermometer tells me, my heart tells me that autumn is here and that it is once again time to revel in things ghostly and ghastly, in stories of things that go bump in the night. It is time to trail our favorite detectives as they relentlessly chase down their prey, to go down that dark path into the woods, to follow flights of fantasy and fairy tale that have a darker heart than their spring time brethren. To confront gothic, creepy, horror stories in all their chilling delight.”

Now doesn’t that sound perfect?

So many wonderful possibilities, and I have pulled together a pool of eight books.

Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth by Chris Priestly has been waiting for quite a while. The final part of a trilogy, I so want to read it but I really don’t want the series to be over.

I have already begun What They Do in the Dark by Amanda Coe. It is very strange and very dark.

The story of Sweeny Todd has been retold many times, and I want to read the book that told the story first: The String of Pearls by Thomas Peskett Prest.

Ghastly Business by Louise Levene caught my eye quite recently – a bluestocking is caught up in a murder mystery in twenties London.

The Baskerville Legacy by John O’Connell tells the story of Arthur Conan-Doyle as he travels to Dartmoor and writes – or maybe co-writes – that famous story.

Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoff is a Scandinavian murder mystery, with a woman investigator who looks very, very interesting.

The Unseen by Katherine Webb is a story of spiritualism in Edwardian England that has been sitting on my bedside table for a while, waiting for this season.

And I am intrigued by the The Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.

So many intriguing possibilities.

And there are group reads, short stories, films to ponder too.

Autumn will be wonderful.

What do you plan to read as the days shorten?