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  • Barbara Copperthwaite

The best books for Autumn & Halloween #autumnreads #Halloweenreading

If you’re anything like me, at this time of year I hanker after a book that can give me chills as I sit in front of my fire. It can simply be set at this time of year and evoke howling winds and snow scenes, or be a full-on ghost story, or even something with just a touch of the supernatural, but it has to give me goosebumps. So I thought I’d share some books that I think fit the bill…

Naomi Cottle finds missing children. When the police have given up their search and an investigation stalls, families call her. She possesses a rare, intuitive sense, born out of her own experience, that allows her to succeed when others have failed. Young Madison Culver has been missing for three years. She vanished on a family trip to the mountainous forests of Oregon, where they’d gone to cut down a tree for Christmas.

It’s not often the phrase ‘beautiful’ can be used about a crime book, but The Child Finder really is something quite special, utterly unique in its ability to spin a gorgeous fairytale over the horror of child abduction. Doesn’t sound possible, does it? But this cleverly-wrought book manages it, alternating narrative between the world of Naomi, who is ‘the child finder’, and the lost girl Madison. Madison copes with being held prisoner by telling herself she has fallen into a book, and has become the snow child. These sections are heartbreaking, stunning, beautifully-phrased, and delicately judged, the balance never falling over into the cloying or ridiculous. In addition, the glorious language of little Madison somehow manages to hit a note that is even more sinister because of its naivety rather than despite of.

The reader needs to be prepared for a tough read, though. This is a book full of beauty and ugliness, with a tragically sad vein running throughout.

In January 1937, clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. After a brief Arctic summer at Gruhuken, in winter permanent night falls. Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. But Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark…

The unique setting for this ghost story is what attracted to me to it initially. Author Michele Paver uses the eerie location of the uninhabited Arctic to create a spine-tingling atmosphere that feels both scarily large and claustrophobically close. The descriptions are, pardon the pun, hauntingly excellent, from the ice which pops and cracks constantly as though talking to itself, to the cold beauty of the Northern Lights; from the bone-chilling constant darkness of an Arctic winter where the sun never peeps over the horizon, to the creeping certainty that someone or something is out there, watching, waiting. This is not a book where much happens, instead it plays on the emotions, unsettling the reader and giving them goosebumps of anticipation. A beautifully-written, old-fashioned ghost story, I thoroughly enjoyed Dark Matter.

The reader is thrown into the middle of a marriage in its death throes. But who is telling the truth, when everyone has their own axe to grind? Just who is controlling who? From the very beginning I was changing my mind about who is the bad guy in this marriage, as each character is so relatable yet also has flashes of something uncomfortable and nasty beneath the surface. The characters are a bit of a cliché, though – the devastatingly beautiful and fragile wife, trying hard to be perfect; the pretty secretary and single mum, trying to make ends meet, who falls for her handsome new boss; the handsome boss with a secret…

Still, I was hooked, wondering just what the outcome would be, although initially it was along the blasé lines of: ‘will it follow the pattern of Gone Girl or Girl On A Train?’ That soon passed as I realised I was reading something that is a very different animal indeed.

Behind Her Eyes boasts the hashtag #WTFthatending – and rightly so. It is ingenious, dastardly, devastatingly well-plotted, and totally unique. It does, however, require a huge leap of faith on the part of the reader; a total suspension of disbelief that many lovers of crime fiction and psychological thrillers may not be happy about having to make. This is a strange, genre-blurring tale with a jaw-dropping ending.

A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives. But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity – that she, in fact, is Lydia – their world comes crashing down once again.

If I tell you this is a book in which very little happens, it will sound boring. No one could accuse The Ice Twins of being boring. Absorbing, haunting, heartbreaking and disturbing…all of those things, most definitely, but boring it is not.

So much of the action, though, happens in your imagination, and that is what makes this so clever and so very powerful.

It works on many levels, too. Is it a psychological thriller? Is it a ghost story? Is it a gothic tale? Or the story of a domestic crime? Somehow, this intelligent and complex novel manages to be all those things, yet never feels confused.

Each page you turn is the turn of a screw slowly, very slowly, ramping up the tension, as the Moorcroft’s marriage falls apart. As Kirstie/Lydia changes from one moment to the next. As secrets are revealed and conclusions jumped to. Expectations are built up that make the reader believe they are being led in one direction, only for things to switch around.  The Ice Twins contains enough twists and turns to give you whiplash.

And the ending…how I wish I could tell you about the ending. It will give you shivers, and stay with you for a very long time. But you won’t mind being haunted by this clever, psychological ghost story.

Late one summer evening, antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow is returning from a client visit when he takes a wrong turn. He stumbles across a derelict Edwardian house, and compelled by curiosity, approaches the door. Standing before the entrance, he feels the unmistakable sensation of a small cold hand creeping into his own, ‘as if a child had taken hold of it’.

At first he is merely puzzled by the odd incident but then begins to suffer attacks of fear and panic, and is visited by nightmares. He is determined to learn more about the house and its once-magnificent, now overgrown garden but when he does so, he receives further, increasingly sinister, visits from the small hand.

If ghost stories are your thing then you will love this novella by Susan Hill, best known as the author of The Woman In Black. So often, modern authors fall into the trap of trying to write a film rather than a book when creating paranormal stories. Hill doesn’t rely on visual descriptions of horror, or clichés designed to make you jump if only they were on the silver screen. Instead she builds spine-tingling unease, an atmosphere of tension, and the constant feel that perhaps you need to check over your shoulder before continuing to read. I actually got goosebumps at times when reading this, despite little happening that is truly sinister – instead everything is suggested, allowing the imagination to fill in the gaps, cleverly allowing the reader to create their own fear. This little book is elegantly written and subtly-told – a proper, old-fashioned ghost tale that is perfect for this time of year.

Lose yourself in the dazzling prose of this magical tale, as author Erin Morgenstern breathes life into Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams), which appears suddenly, opens only at night, then disappears just as rapidly. From the colourful descriptions of the various tents, the amazing wonders, and even the incredible smells and tastes, the dream-like words create their own spell.

At the heart of this is an unusual love story, which builds subtly between two magicians hiding their skills in plain sight; two people who were bound from childhood before they even knew each other. Critics may say the ending is disappointing, and I’d agree that if put under a microscope it could be better – but frankly the writing transports and transforms to such a degree that it is worth any plots holes just to have sat back and enjoyed the journey.

The Night Circus is one of my all-time favourite books. Go on, allow yourself to be enchanted by it this Halloween.

Still looking for a Halloween read? THE PERFECT FRIEND is a psychological thriller set around at this time of year.

She’ll do anything for you…

My name is Alex, and my world has been shattered. My husband has left me. My children won’t speak to me. My friend Carrie is the only person I have. She’s the only one I can trust to keep all my secrets. She’d never do anything to let me down. Would she?


FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD is a modern, psychological thriller take on a Gothic fairytale which, according to the Sunday Mirror, ‘will have you looking over your shoulder and under your bed.’


After a devastating car crash wipes out her family, Laura struggles to get her life together. Grieving, she becomes forgetful. She doesn’t remember how money got into her purse, or buying that pint of milk…

Adam is the perfect boyfriend. He cooks meals. He does the housework. He looks after Laura’s every need. He knows everything about her.

But Laura has never met Adam. And she knows nothing about him.

What turned him into a monster who stalks his victims? How did he become warped from a sensitive boy who adored the fairy tales his gran read to him? And what is he trying to say with the bouquets he sends?


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