Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Titles

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is a ‘Halloween Freebie’. There were lots of ways I could have approached this topic, but I decided to list ten words that are often associated with Halloween and find a book I’ve read with each of those words in the title.

Here are the ten books I’ve chosen. I think most of these would make great Halloween reads!

1. Blood Upon the Snow by Hilda Lawrence – First published in 1944, this is one of three crime novels to feature the private investigator Mark East and his two friends, the amateur detectives Bessy and Beulah. This atmospheric novel is set in a lonely town in the mountains during a snowy winter.

2. The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson – The first in a series of historical mysteries set in the eighteenth century. This book is set almost entirely within London’s notorious Marshalsea Prison and although all of the other books in the series are excellent too, I particularly loved this one because of the fascinating setting.

3. The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements – A seventeenth century ghost story set on a sheep farm in the Yorkshire moors. Although I found the book quite slow, it’s also very atmospheric and steeped in English folklore.

4. Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart – This is not one of my favourites of Mary Stewart’s suspense novels, but I still enjoyed it. Published in 1976, it has a few touches of the supernatural and a wonderful country house setting, complete with moat and maze.

5. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux – I didn’t love this 1911 classic quite as much as I’d hoped to, but it’s very entertaining and has a great setting – an opera house with an underground lake, a maze of tunnels and a torture chamber. Worth reading whether or not you’re a fan of the musical.

6. The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley – Twelve-year-old detective Flavia de Luce is investigating the death of a young actor who is found drowned in a river. I prefer the earlier books in the Flavia series, but this is still a good one.

7. A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters – This is the first book in the Cadfael mystery series featuring the monk, Brother Cadfael, and set in the medieval period. I really enjoyed this book and still need to continue with the rest of the series.

8. Midnight is a Lonely Place by Barbara Erskine – I find I usually like the sound of Barbara Erskine’s books more than the books themselves! In this one, a writer rents a cottage on the Essex coast, only to discover that the house appears to be haunted by the ghost of a Roman soldier. I didn’t love the book, but I did find it very creepy!

9. The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde – This classic satirical comedy is a ghost story with a difference; an American family move into an English country house which is said to be haunted, but no matter how hard the resident ghost tries, the family refuse to be frightened!

10. Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie – The obvious choice to finish my list! It’s one of the later Poirot novels, published in 1969, and I don’t think it’s one of the best, but with the murder taking place during a Halloween party it’s the perfect Christie novel to read at this time of year.


Have you read any of these? Which other books with Halloween-related words in the title can you think of?

If you’re wondering why there are no witch-related books in my list, I used them in a previous Halloween Top Ten Tuesday here!

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

With this year’s R.I.P. Challenge rapidly coming to a close, I decided to squeeze an Agatha Christie novel in before the end of the month. Hallowe’en Party was one I hadn’t read before so I thought it would be a good choice for a late October read. As one of the final Poirot novels, published in 1969 towards the end of Christie’s career, I wasn’t expecting it to be one of her better books – and I don’t think it was – but I did still enjoy reading it.

At the beginning of the book, Mrs Drake is hosting a Halloween party for a group of teenagers. One of them, thirteen-year-old Joyce, who likes to be the centre of attention, tries to impress the others by insisting that she had once been a witness to a murder. Knowing Joyce’s reputation for telling lies, nobody believes her…but at the end of the party, she is found dead, drowned in the bucket of water which had been used for the traditional Halloween game of bobbing for apples. It seemed that somebody may have believed Joyce after all and has murdered her before she can say any more.

Among the adults helping out at the party is the crime novelist, Ariadne Oliver, who summons her old friend, Hercule Poirot, to the village, sure that he will be able to identify Joyce’s killer. But when Poirot arrives he quickly discovers that before he can begin to solve the mystery of Joyce’s death, there’s another murder to investigate first: the one which Joyce claimed to have witnessed and which someone was so desperate to cover up that they were prepared to kill again.

As I said, I found this an enjoyable Poirot novel but not a great one. The solution to the mystery didn’t seem as complex or original as some of the others and I found some of the characters hard to distinguish from each other. Having said that, I did guess who had committed the murders before the truth was revealed – although I have to confess my guess was just based on gut instinct and not because I’m a better detective than Poirot. There are some other surprises towards the end as well, although one particular revelation felt too far-fetched – it seemed to come out of nowhere with no real reason for it.

I enjoyed reading about the preparations for the party and the games that were played at it, but I was slightly disappointed that the Halloween theme didn’t continue after the first few chapters. The rest of the book could have been set at any time of the year, really. It’s still quite an atmospheric book, though; I particularly loved the descriptions of the ‘sunk garden’ in the quarry where some of the later scenes take place.

There’s not much more I can say about this book. It’s a good entry in the series, although not my favourite, and if you’re already a Poirot fan I’m sure you’ll find a lot to like – especially if you’ve read some of the earlier books featuring Ariadne Oliver. If you’re new to Poirot, I would probably recommend choosing a different one to start with.

I’m counting this book towards the R.I.P. XIII challenge (category: mystery).

A Halloween Treat: Six stories by Edgar Allan Poe

It’s been a while since I last read anything by Edgar Allan Poe so I decided to pull my Complete Tales and Poems off the shelf this weekend to re-read a few of his stories. With Halloween on its way, I thought I would concentrate on some of his spooky, unsettling or gothic stories rather than the mysteries, science fiction, essays and other genres which are also included in the collection. Maybe I will write about some of those in a future post, but for now, here are my thoughts on the six stories I’ve managed to re-read over the weekend:


Ligeia – This has always been one of my favourite Poe stories. It begins with the narrator describing his beautiful, talented, intelligent wife Ligeia, whom he met in a ‘large, old, decaying city near the Rhine’. When Ligeia dies, the heartbroken narrator retreats to England where he buys and restores an ancient abbey. Marrying again, he brings his new wife, the Lady Rowena, to live with him at the abbey where he prepares for her a chamber which sounds wonderfully sinister and eerie. The rays of the sun and moon fall ‘with a ghastly lustre on the objects within’, in each corner stands ‘a gigantic sarcophagus of black granite’ and an artificial current of wind behind the tapestries gives a ‘hideous and uneasy animation to the whole’.

The story is notable for the unreliability of the narrator and for the inclusion of one of Poe’s poems, The Conqueror Worm.

– 5 Ravens


The Masque of the Red Death – This is a story I’ve always found slightly confusing. A prince and a thousand friends (could anyone really have a thousand friends?) lock themselves away in a castle while a terrible plague devastates the rest of the country. The moral of the story seems clear enough to me, but I’m not sure I’ve ever understood all of the symbolism, such as why the prince has seven chambers each decorated in a different colour – That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example in blue — and vividly blue were its windows. That’s maybe why this one has never been a favourite.

– 3 Ravens


Metzengerstein – In this story, set in what I assume is medieval Germany, the young Baron Metzengerstein witnesses a horse in a tapestry take on human characteristics: The eyes, before invisible, now wore an energetic and human expression, while they gleamed with a fiery and unusual red; and the distended lips of the apparently enraged horse left in full view his sepulchral and disgusting teeth. Moments later a strange horse appears in his stables outside. Is it just an innocent animal or is it something more sinister? Again, this is not a favourite, but it’s an interesting story with lots of gothic elements.

– 3 Ravens


The Oblong Box – I found this the weakest of the stories I’ve read this weekend. The narrator takes passage on a ship from Charleston to New York City and meets an old friend aboard. The friend is accompanied by his wife, his two sisters…and an oblong-shaped box made of pine. I thought it was quite obvious what must be inside the box – and I guessed correctly. The most interesting thing about the story is that the narrator comes to entirely the wrong conclusion!

– 2 Ravens


Silence: A Fable – This is a very short story (three pages long in my edition) but one that I’ve always loved, mainly for the language Poe uses to create atmosphere. The story is narrated by a Demon, who is describing a region of Libya where giant water lilies ‘stretch towards the heaven their long ghastly necks’, the river ‘palpitates forever and forever beneath the red eye of the sun’ and ‘strange poisonous flowers lie writhing in perturbed slumber’. With its rhythm and repetition it has the feel of a poem in prose. It was night, and the rain fell; and, falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood.

As it’s so short, I don’t want to spoil the plot (not that there’s much plot to spoil). Without going into details, I think there are different ways you could interpret this story, but I see it as meaning that while humans may not necessarily be afraid of chaos, noise and destruction, what they fear most of all is complete and utter silence.

5 Ravens


The Oval Portrait – Another very short story, at two and a half pages long. Our narrator becomes injured during a journey and takes refuge in a château, a place of ‘gloom and grandeur’. A portrait of a young woman in an oval frame opposite his bed catches his eye and he is fascinated when he learns the tragic story behind it. The similarities between The Oval Portrait and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray – and what they each have to say about art and artists – are striking.

– 4 Ravens


Have you read any of these? What are your favourite Poe stories?

If I’ve got you in the mood for more Poe, here are some of my older Poe-related posts which you may find interesting:

Mrs Poe by Lynn Cullen

Dragonwyck by Anya Seton (Poe makes a few brief appearances in this one)

The American Boy by Andrew Taylor (the title character is the ten-year-old Poe)

Ulalume: A Poem for Halloween

Small and Spooky (a short story anthology including Poe’s Morella)

Historical Musings #19: The Halloween edition

Historical Musings October is here and has brought with it (in my part of the UK at least) a change in the weather, longer, darker nights and a distinctly autumnal feel. With Halloween just a few weeks away, I thought it would be fun to give this month’s Historical Musings post a seasonal theme! I would love to hear about any historical novels you’ve read which deal with any of the following subjects:

  • Witches and witchcraft
  • Magic (black or white)
  • Ghosts and hauntings
  • Vampires/zombies/werewolves/monsters or other supernatural beings of any kind

My suggestions:

The Vanishing Witch Karen Maitland is one of the first authors to come to mind when I think about this type of historical fiction. The Vanishing Witch is set during the time of the Peasants’ Revolt and features both ghosts and witchcraft; at the beginning of each chapter is a spell, a piece of folklore or a superstition, which I thought was a nice touch! The Raven’s Head, set in the early 13th century, is a darker novel with a strong supernatural element. I haven’t read her other books yet, but am about to start her new one, The Plague Charmer.

Although I didn’t particularly enjoy it, Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (also published as The Lost Book of Salem) deals with the Salem witch trials. It’s a dual time-frame novel but is set at least partly in the past so I’m including it here.

For those readers who are interested in witches and witchcraft but prefer a gentler read, I can recommend The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge and Thornyhold by Mary Stewart. The first is set during the English Civil War while the latter is set in the 1940s (but published in 1988, which is why I’m classing it as historical here). There’s also Susan Fletcher’s Corrag (also published as Witch Light), a beautifully written novel about the Glencoe Massacre of 1692; the main character and her mother have both been accused of witchcraft due to their knowledge of herbs and healing.

Vlad the Last Confession C.C. Humphreys has written a novel called Vlad: The Last Confession, which tells the story of Vlad the Impaler, the fifteenth century Prince of Wallachia who is thought to have provided at least part of the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is not actually a vampire novel, but because of the Dracula connection and the dark atmosphere I’m including it here anyway.

There are also two ghostly novels by John Harwood that come to mind: The Séance, a gothic mystery set in Victorian England, and The Ghost Writer, which includes four genuinely chilling short ghost stories supposedly written by a fictitious author in the 1890s.

Finally, there’s Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, in which our hero and heroine are a vampire and a witch. The first book, A Discovery of Witches, is set in the present day but in the second, Shadow of Night, we travel back in time to 16th century Europe. I’m not sure about the third book as I haven’t read it yet.

Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned here? Can you think of any other historical fiction novels with a ghostly/witchy/magical feel?

A Poem For Halloween: Ulalume by Edgar Allan Poe

As today is Halloween, I decided to post one of my favourite poems by Edgar Allan Poe. Like a lot of Poe’s work this poem looks at the themes of loss and death. The narrator is walking through the woods on a dark night in October and finds himself at the tomb of Ulalume, whom he had buried there on the same night the year before.

There are several references to mythology throughout the poem and you may need to look up the meanings of any unfamiliar words and phrases. The name Ulalume, for example, is thought to be taken from the Latin verb ululare which means to shriek or wail.

(Note: The following poem is in the public domain)

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere–
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir–
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul–
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll–
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole–
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere–
Our memories were treacherous and sere,–
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)–
We noted not the dim lake of Auber
(Though once we had journeyed down here)–
Remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn–
As the star-dials hinted of morn–
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn–
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said: “She is warmer than Dian;
She rolls through an ether of sighs–
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
To point us the path to the skies–
To the Lethean peace of the skies–
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes–
Come up through the lair of the Lion,
With love in her luminous eyes.”

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said: “Sadly this star I mistrust–
Her pallor I strangely mistrust:
Ah, hasten! -ah, let us not linger!
Ah, fly! -let us fly! -for we must.”
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings until they trailed in the dust–
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust–
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied: “This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybilic splendour is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty tonight!–
See! -it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright–
We safely may trust to a gleaming,
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night.”

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom–
And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the door of a tomb–
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said: “What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?”
She replied: “Ulalume -Ulalume–
‘Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere–
As the leaves that were withering and sere;
And I cried: “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed -I journeyed down here!–
That I brought a dread burden down here–
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon hath tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber–
This misty mid region of Weir–
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

[Ulalume – Edgar Allan Poe]