Tag Archives: Halloween

The House on Cold Hill by Peter James

I’m a massive fan of Halloween, so was very excited to be invited to review The House on Cold Hill by Peter James, even though I wouldn’t normally select a “haunted house” narrative myself. After all, once you’ve read one you’ve read them all, right? Haunted house clichés in books and films are so common that you don’t need me to compile a list of them for you… the challenge is for an author to either completely break the mould, or to work within the tropes that a reader will expect while still offering enough unpredictability to creep them out. Not easy.

The House on Cold Hill is definitely in the latter camp and though James brings out many haunted house classics (cold rooms, frightened animals, glimpses of shadows), these are cleverly used. Having stunned the reader with an unexpected plot twist in the first chapter, the opening of the novel then focuses on the cataclysmic restoration of Cold Hill House. Initially I felt as if I was watching a channel four mash-up of Phil Spencer Secret Agent and Most Haunted, a cautionary tale of dabbling in property with horror tropes drip fed slowly into the narrative. But all the while the subtle cues of a haunted house story gradually built tension while I was looking the other way. By the time the novel is reaching its climax, I found myself hooked on the story. Although there are a few elements that are a little predictable (an aspect of the genre, rather than the author’s imagination) there are enough false leads and red herrings to keep you wrong footed and guessing at the ending until the penultimate chapter.

If you’re looking for a ghost story for 2015, then The House on Cold Hill is definitely worth a read. And who doesn’t like curling up with a spooky tale on a cold winter’s evening?

Top Five Witches in Fiction

Happy Halloween, in celebration of one of my favourite days of the year I thought I would share my favourite fictional witches with you. When I told my boyfriend I was doing a post on fictional witches he told me that all witches are fictional, he told me that all witches are fictional. That’s what he wants to think, he’ll be laughing on the other side of his face when I turn him into a toad…. but I digress. Some are entered as collectives (covens if you will…), some are wicked while some are just tricksey,and I’ve no doubt that some of the additions will be as controversial as one of my major omissions…

1)The Lancre Witches in The Discworld Series

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

“I’m not superstitious. I’m a witch. Witches aren’t superstitious. We are what people are superstitious of.” Wintersmith

 

I love the Lancre witches in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. After Death they are my favourite characters. They are quietly powerful, not engaging to hierarchical nonsense to the extent of wizards and have tongues as sharp as their minds. They are hilarious when they interact as a community, and the way they drop in on each other to check that no one is at risk of cackling is brilliant, you get the sense that they are half hoping that they will find each other lapsing. I love all the witches from Tiffany Aching with her mishaps in the recent books, to the hearty Nanny Ogg, but grumpy Granny Weatherwax is almost certainly my favourite of them all:

“Granny Weatherwax was often angry. She considered in one of her strong points. Genuine anger was one of the world greatest creative forces. But you had to learn how to control it. That didn’t mean you let it trickle away. it meant you damned it, carefully, let it develop a working head, let it drown whole valleys of the mind and then, just when the whole structure was about to collapse, opened a tiny pipeline at the base and let the iron-hard stream of wrath power the turbines of revenge.”  Wyrd Sisters

 2) Jadis/The White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia

Jadis, The White Witch, as played by Tilda Swinton in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Part Snow Queen, part especially corrupted Eve, The White Witch is witchy in the wreak-evil-and-rule-the-world sense. In fact, she may well be the wickedest witch on this list. Having wiped out all life on the world of Charn, she escapes to London and tries to take over Earth before returning to Narnia and plunging the land into an eternal winter, turning people to stone, seducing children with enchanted Turkish Delight and killing Aslan. As a child, she was a character I loved to hate.

 ‘”The White Witch?” said Edmund; “who’s she?”

“She is a perfectly terrible person,” said Lucy. “She calls herself the Queen of Narnia thought she has no right to be queen at all, and all the Fauns and Dryands and Naiads and Dwarfs and Animals—at least all the good ones—simply hate her. And she can turn people into stone and do all kinds of horrible things. And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia—always winter, but it never gets to Christmas. And she drives about on a sledge, drawn by reindeer, with her wand in her hand and a crown on her head.”

Edmund was already feeling uncomfortable from having eaten too many sweets, and when he heard that the Lady he had made friends with was a dangerous witch he felt even more uncomfortable. But he still wanted to taste that Turkish Delight more than he wanted anything else.’

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

 3) The Grand High Witch in The Witches

The Witches by Roald Dahl, iconic cover image by Quentin Blake

Another scary childhood witch, perhaps made worse by the fact that witches could be anyone, anywhere. Perhaps even your school teacher. You had to be especially vigilant to be sure you weren’t accidentally talking to a witch- watch out for claw like hands, fiery pupils, bald heads and a limp.

 

“She might even be your lovely school-teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don’t let that put you off. It could be part of cleverness.
I am not, of course, telling you for one second that your teacher actually is a witch. All I am saying is that she might be one. It is most unlikely. But–here comes the big “but”–not impossible.”

Roald Dahl, The Witches

 4) The Wicked Witch of The West/Elphaba from The Oz Stories

The Wicked Witch of The West threatens Dorothy

I think that this is the image that jumps into your mind whenever you get asked to picture a witch- a green-skinned woman in a tall black hat as suggested by The Oz stories and Wicked. I have included these as one character because I love the juxtaposition between the books. In the Baum books she is the power obsessed antagonist who represents all that is evil, in Wicked she is a tender-hearted heroine whose memory will ultimately be slandered by The Wizard to create the propagandist portrayal we see in The Wizard of Oz.  I love her in both.

“One never learns how the witch became wicked, or whether that was the right choice for her-is it ever the right choice? Does the devil ever struggle to be good again, or if so is he not a devil?”

Wicked, Gregory Maguire

 5) Minerva McGonagall of Harry Potter Fame

Prof Minerva McGonagall

This is the controversial choice that I was referring to, but for me Minerva McGonagall is the best witch in the Harry Potter books. A talented witch with a steely exterior, she has her heart firmly in the right place and I defy anyone to read the scene in The Order of The Phoenix where she stands up for Harry against Umbridge without cheering inside. She’s a damn site cooler than Hermione, though Molly Weasley has to come a close second. Did I mention that she has a mischievous side as well?

 

 “Harry witnessed Professor McGonagall walking right past Peeves who was determinedly loosening a crystal chandelier and could have sworn he heard her tell the poltergeist out of the corner of her mouth ‘It unscrews the other way.”

J.K. Rowling, The Order of The Phoenix

 Honourable Mention

While not making my top five, honourable mentions should go to The Three Witches in Macbeth, Mildred Hubble The Worst Witch, Lena Duchannes in Beautiful Creatures and, Bobd, Macha and Morrigan as portrayed in The Hounds of The Morrigan.

Literary Pumpkins- Bookish Inspiration for Halloween

When my brother send me a picture of this pumpkin based on the one ring in Lord of The Rings, he started something of an obsession…. my heart melted a bit. All I knew was that I loved it, I wanted it, I neeeds it…. my precioussss pumpkin…

LOTR pumpkin with inscription from the one ring

I realised I needed to seek more bookish pumpkin fun and came across this brilliant post from A Book Lover’s Diary of 20 Pumpkin Carvings Inspired By Books. These have been made by grandmasters. They are not for the likes of me to try carving at home. I’ll have to cheat something like these cute (but under carved) pumpkins inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven from Country Living and Etsy

What are the best literary pumpkins you’ve come across?