Fall Books

Fall is, hands down, my favorite time of year. The changing leaves, the crispy cool days, the nights that are finally, finally cold enough for a wood fire and a hot drink. October rolls around, pumpkins appear, sweaters and boots come back into style, and apple cider starts to sound like a very good idea.

IMG_0348

October, for me, means stacking wood, starting fires in my wood stove at night to heat my little cabin, and setting out dried corn and a salt lick for the turkeys, squirrels, and deer around my home. It means books by the fire, hot chocolate, misty days, rain, and cozy blankets. My days off, when I have them, are days for reading, and some of my favorites for cold, rainy days (or warm sunny ones) are:

Sherlock Holmes.

Are there any better companions for a rainy evening than Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes? These stories are perfect to curl up with beside a roaring fire, with rain pattering on the windows outside, and a mug of tea at your side. They are fascinating, believable, and just scary enough to make the rain outside sound ominous. I couldn’t think of a better choice when you have a stormy evening all to yourself!

“Come, Watson, come!” he cried. “The game is afoot!”

Anne of Green Gables.

This book is perfect for all weathers, but for a bright, sunny day in October? It’s the ideal choice. Maybe on a park bench with the trees turning colors around you, or walking down a country lane, shuffling through leaf piles while you read. (Or am I the only one who reads on a walk?) Anne fits perfectly with the cry of geese overhead and falling leaves, and her opinion of Octobers perfectly mirrors mine!

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.

Frankenstein.

With October comes Halloween, and what is Halloween without a few scary stories mixed in? If you’re looking for a spine-chilling story this Halloween this year and haven’t read this one, pick it up! It’s dark, chilling, and absolutely brilliant. The story will have you sitting on the edge of your seat and is the perfect choice for a cold night wrapped up in cozy blankets. Turn the lights down low and enjoy!

Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.

The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Another one for your spine-chilling to-be-read pile! In this book, Robert Louis Stevenson delves into the psychology of good and evil, and the heart and mind of man. Whether you agree with his findings or not, this is a must read for those of you looking for books to read this Halloween. If you’ve got the stomach for it, read it through in an evening and enjoy! (I read it in broad daylight in just a few hours. Not a long book, but a terrifying one! I didn’t have the courage for a night read.)

You must suffer me to go my own dark way.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.

Oh, this book. I loved this book. It was a strange mix of horror, adventure, romance, intrigue, lies, and hope. I don’t read many creepy stories, and I had to read this one slowly, (as in, in a week instead of two days) but it was well worth it! The characters were some of the most interesting, vivid people that I had met in YA novel in a long time, and the world they navigated was endlessly fascinating. (And horrifying.) This is a rainy, misty day kind of book, when you have nothing else to do, no plans to make, no people to see. Chunk up your fire, make some tea, and prepare yourself.

We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing in them becomes too high.

A Wrinkle in Time.

This is a book of rainy, windy nights, of fall leaves, of pumpkin patches, and hot cocoa. I always think of fall and cooling weather when I see it, but the adventure inside its pages is so much more interesting—and dangerous—than simply fall weather. Meg Murry (even the name makes me think of fall) has been one of my closest companions since I was very young, and this book will always be one of my favorites. It’s a windy day kind of book, when leaves are blowing, the wind howls outside your window, and just stepping outside feels miserable. The first few chapters (before the adventure really begins) will make you feel so cozy you won’t mind the wind!

“Wild nights are my glory,” Mrs Whatsit said. “I just got caught in a down draft and blown off course.”

IMG_0350

There you are, my fall recommendations! What are your favorite books for this time of year?

Blackbirds

pexels-photo-116909

They wait for me in the old churchyard, among the gravestones. Their feathers are black as soot, their beady eyes watching the lane they know I’ll be walking along.

I don’t want to pass them. But I have to, if I want to get home.

They’re only here at night, only for an hour or two. Blackbirds, so many of them I sometimes wonder if they roost there. But they don’t. The priest has never seen them, nor anyone else who lives along this lane. Only I see them. Every single night.

They’re perched on the stones when I pass, on the wall. They’re all silent, every one of them, as if they can hear my footsteps on the gravel path, my breathing in the cold air. I try not to look at them, not to breathe, and keep to the other side of the lane as far from them as I can get. I hate blackbirds. They’re nasty, vicious creatures, and they’re thieves too. I’ve never liked them. Not once.

They know I don’t like them. They know I’m afraid too, I think, although whenever I tell anyone that I get laughed at. Birds are too stupid to hold a grudge, to feel fear.

Aren’t they?

The shadows are coming out of the trees when I finally pass the church, reach the bend in the lane. I look back, but the birds are gone already. Disappeared into the darkening sky, just as quickly as they came. But they’ll be there tomorrow night. Waiting for me.

They always are.

Till We Have Faces

I have a confession.

I avoided this book. I have a bad habit of doing this with books I’m not sure about. I stick them on my shelf, and I—wait. Sometimes for months. Like I said, it’s a bad habit.

And in this case, it very nearly deprived me of one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Till We Have Faces may just be my favorite of C.S. Lewis’s books. Narnia and the Space Trilogy are both brilliant stories and very high on my list, but this surpassed them, maybe because Greek myth fascinates me so much. C.S. Lewis took a myth and reimagined it in such a way that it belongs on the same shelf with Antigone, Homer, and the Odyssey. (All great favorites of mine.)

IMG_0353

The story is told by the princess Orual, the ugly daughter of failing king. Orual is desperate for love, a girl without a mother and with an absent, uncaring father. Her two chief joys in life are her younger half-sister Istra (or Psyche, as they all called her), and the Fox, a Greek slave who tutors and loves her in place of her father.

But then beautiful, sweet little Psyche is accused of bringing a curse on the kingdom. The god worshiped by these people is called Ungit, another version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, a jealous, vindictive deity. Her priests claim that Psyche’s beauty—and the way the common people worship her for it—mocks Ungit, and she is sentenced to death. Or, rather, to be ‘given to the gods’. Orual is desperate and does everything she can to stop the horrifying sentence, but it is carried out, and her little sister is left, bound in chains, on the mountainside as a gift for Ungit’s son. His bride-to-be, the priests insist.

IMG_0364

Orual’s pain, her search for her sister, her awareness of her own failings as an ‘ugly’ princess and the steps she takes to seek out Psyche come together in a haunting, heart-wrenching story that made it nearly impossible for me to set this book down. I loved every page, from her beginnings as the abused, hated daughter to her rise as a warrior queen who took a failing kingdom and made it great again. The book is written seemingly in her own hand, an accusation against the gods, she says, because they stole Psyche away from her and treated her so poorly.

The book travels through many years, and through it Orual begins to understand more about herself and the harm her own possessive, selfish love has done to her sister. My heart ached for her, even when she was wrong, even when she hurt the people around her so badly because of her mistakes, because it was so easy to understand and feel the pain behind her actions. This book was the last of C.S. Lewis’s works, and he died before completing it fully, leaving some people dissatisfied with its ending. I thought the abrupt cut off fit well with the writing style and liked the way it panned out, feeling it was as finished as it needed to be. All in all, this book was one I will be reading again and again and would highly recommend to anyone interested in Mr. Lewis’s work.

“As for all I can tell, the only difference is that what many see we call a real thing, and what only one sees we call a dream.”

 

Dead City

pexels-photo-242359

A window is open on the second floor. Most of the doors on these buildings are locked, so the only way in is through the windows, and I don’t like breaking glass. It’s too loud, attracts too much attention. Even in a dead city, attention is not what I want.

I clamber up the fire escape toward the second floor. The bars are rusty, and I’m careful not to cut my hands. Once upon a time, we could go to a doctor if we hurt ourselves. Now there are no doctors, no hospitals, no nurses. If I’m hurt, I’ll stay hurt. Or deal with it myself.

And I don’t have the kind of experience, or courage, to stitch up my own hands.

Inside the apartment, I sift through the remains of what used to be someone’s life. Plates and cutlery are scattered on a table, crusted with food so old there’s nothing left even for the mold anymore. Dust clings to the stove, the sink, the chairs. A child’s doll lies in the corner.

The food in the fridge is long ago spoiled, but I find some stale crackers in the pantry, a bag of trail mix. A box of pasta. And water. Bottled water. It might as well be gold. I tuck as many bottles as I can fit into my backpack and hide the rest until I can come back. They’ll fetch a high price on the black market. Imagine: water that isn’t contaminated, that we don’t have to filter.

Liquid gold.

Seashells

pexels-photo-320260

The best time to go for seashells is right after the tide has gone out. The waves have swept all sorts of new treasures onto the sand. I go out with my basket and gather them together, bit by bit. Sea-glass, broken shells, sometimes whole ones, little sea creatures. I always let those go. My brother likes to catch them and keep them in the tide pools beside our house, but I don’t dare. I sell my treasures to the witch that lives at the base of the cliffs a mile down the beach, and she doesn’t like it when I bring her anything living.

If it’s alive, it should stay where it is. That’s what she tells me, every time I bring her my basket. And I haven’t forgotten.

I always look for just the right shells for her. She likes the purple ones best, I think. And the green. She doesn’t mind at all if they’re chipped or broken, in fact, I think she likes those better. There’s magic in seashells, love, she always tells me. More magic than I can conjure up.

I always laugh when she says that. I know she doesn’t do real magic. She told me so herself. Just a few tricks to keep the men in the village away from her, so she can live in peace with her seashells. I think they are the only things she really loves. She hangs them all around her house, on long strings in front of her door, on short ones above her bed. They clutter the floor under her bed, the top of her dresser, her table. Even in her kitchen drawers. I’ve only sold her about half of them. The rest she found herself. She’s always out looking for new ones.

Just like I am.

Sunflowers

sunflower-blossom-bloom-flowers-54267

The sunflowers are growing already. I can see them growing all along the edge of our fields, putting out leaves, growing taller. In a month they’ll be as high as my waist, maybe higher, and their heavy, nodding heads with start to open.

I love the sunflowers. We plant them every year, in every field, right along the edges where they’ll protect our crops from the pests that try to steal them. We can chase away the blackbirds and gophers ourselves, but the others are harder to get rid of. The willow elves. And the water sprites. They like to steal into the fields and steal the seeds, uproot the seedlings and dig in the ground until our crops are nothing but lumpy ground and useless, trampled leaves.

But the sunflowers keep them away. Always. I don’t know why. My mother says it’s because the yellow flowers frighten them. They only steal at night, you see, and the sunflowers are as bright in the moonlight as they are during the day. It frightens the pests, and they think it is still broad daylight.

They must be very stupid. I’ve stolen out to the fields at night to see them, and it is just as dark there as anywhere else. The sunflowers don’t change that. But I suppose to a willow elf, which is a very small little creature, they must look a bit like the sun. Perhaps they don’t have very good eyes.

Crypt

pexels-photo-289756

The candles are lit this time. Sometimes when he locks me down here, because I’ve spoken out of turn or sassed my nurse in his presence, the candles are as dark as the stones, and the shadows creeping out of the graves fill the whole room. I’m afraid to be here then.

But the candles are lit tonight, although if he knew I took such comfort in them, he would have them blown out. He sends me down to the crypts to punish me, to teach me a lesson, he says. His stupid, headstrong little daughter with the crippled body and the mind that’s stronger than his. At least when he’s been drinking.

I wait until the key rattles in the locks, then get up and wander around the tombs. The air smells of dust and candlewax, burnt roses and incense. Someone must have been here mourning earlier, probably for the son my father has already had to bury. My mother, maybe. She lives down here, lost with dead, except when my father forces her up into the world of the living. She has too many children buried beneath the flagstones to be happy anywhere else.

The tombs are taller than I am. Great slabs of stone, some with the carvings of dead men with swords on their breasts lying on them. One of them has a stone dog at his feet. My great grandfather. My aunt told me he had the dog buried with him. I think that’s horrible. Did he think the dog loved him so much that they couldn’t be parted? I’m sure he didn’t love the dog very much, if he wanted it to die when he did.

The candle flames dance, jerking in the cool draft that is always trapped here, and I wander on. I really don’t mind being locked down here. Not when the candles are lit.