When I was a kid, I listened to Christmas music year-round. I would play my dad’s vinyl Goodyear Christmas records on St. Patrick’s Day, Easter weekend, Memorial day through Labor Day, then all through the fall. I loved the emotions those songs evoked. Anticipation, happiness, love. And since Christmas Day took FOREVER to arrive, I thought that if I listened to the music all year long, time would speed up.
But now that I’m older, time is going by way too fast and I have this desperate need to grab hold of every minute and slow things down.
So while today’s Writer Wednesday’s post is about your favorite holiday books, I’m not going to talk about Christmas books. Or Halloween books. Or any other kind of holiday books. I’m going to talk about books that evoke the emotions I attribute to my all-time favorite season: Fall.
Why do we listen to Christmas music or read holiday books or beach stories anyway? Is it to remind us in the middle of winter that summer (and summer love) will come regardless of the ten-foot snow drift outside your door? Or to give us hope no matter how difficult the year has been? To remember that on one special day of the year all of our desperate cries and unanswered dreams will be reflected in a single Star of grace?
Maybe. But I also believe that since readers read to feel something, they choose books (even subconsciously) that evoke the emotions of each season. Summer reads are full of laughter, forgiveness, and fleeting love. Spring books are stories of redemption and renewal and weddings. Winter books? Hope that there is a light in the darkness.
But what about Fall?
Fall is the time of year when days are shorter, nights appear darker, the air fluctuates between warm and cold. And in the midst of the changing weather and light, colors become more vibrant (red, purple, orange), smells more intense (burning leaves and pumpkin spice lattes), and there’s a parallel between beginnings (school) and endings (growing season). Harvests are coming in, favorite foods reappear (apple cider and pumpkin pie), Halloween signals the thinning of the veil between life and death, and the first snowflake falls.
Fall reactivates every sense at once. Yet there’s a desperateness to it all. We fear that if we don’t cut our pumpkins, get to the Renaissance Faire, pick apples at a Harvest Festival, or roast marshmallows after Trick or Treating, the season will disappear with the first appearance of Christmas decorations, sometimes as early as All Souls Day, before we can enjoy it all.
With this in mind, I’ve made a short list of my favorite books that I re-read every fall, books that capture this season. Books about ghosts, dying dreams, gratitude and family, hopelessness against fate, feasts and food, and even magic.
First up, my all-time favorite book when I was a teenager:
The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope:
Amazon blurb: In 1558, while exiled by Queen Mary Tudor to a remote castle known as Perilous Gard, young Kate Sutton becomes involved in a series of mysterious events that lead her to an underground world peopled by Fairy Folk—whose customs are even older than the Druids’ and include human sacrifice.
This book entranced me when I was a teenager. Not only is it a poignant teenage love story based on the Legend of Tam Lin, it includes murder, mystery, and fairy folk with the climax of the book taking place on Halloween. The heroine wears green velvet cloaks and gets lost in the autumn woods. When the hero, Christopher, is captured, Kate, the heroine, has to save him. Then he has to save her. There are towers and moats and spells and insanity. There’s a lost girl and a heartbreaking sacrifice. But most of all, there’s forgiveness at the very edge of midnight, the moment before All Souls Day.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling:
Besides being a huge Harry Potter fan, I included this book for the simple reason that every book in the series starts with the new school year. And new school years are nothing more than metaphors for new beginnings. Despite the fact Death Eaters lurk everywhere, Harry is safe at Hogwarts with the promise of dark afternoons spent with Hermione and Ron at the Leaky Cauldron drinking butter beer in front of the fire.
When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd:
This autobiographical account of a spiritual crises always makes me cry and gives me hope. It’s about endings and beginnings and spiritual awakenings. Highly metaphorical, this book reaches beyond the pain of past hurts and forces the reader to open his or her heart to new possibilities hiding in the shadowy mist. But only if the reader trusts that the dark night is always followed by the morning sun.
The story of King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. With Merlin and Mordred and Morgan Le Fey. Knights in shining armor, ladies in velvet dresses, love and longing, honor and truth, deceit and betrayal. Reading about the legends of King Arthur is like walking through a Renaissance Faire with blazing bonfires and hot mulled cider (without the horse droppings). Yet, despite the deaths and brutal endings, the story offers a seed of hope that only comes from forgiveness and redemption.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Amazon blurb: Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her. His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
A beautiful YA love story that includes a search for Ley Lines and the legend of the sleeping Welsh Kings. A lush story of teenage love and all its crippling angst set against the backdrop of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in the waning light of fall.
Lover Eternal by JR Ward
Amazon blurb: Within the Black Dagger Brotherhood, Rhage is the warrior vampire with the strongest appetites. He’s the deadliest fighter, the most voracious lover, the quickest to act on his impulses. He’s also been cursed with two hundred years of hell. Possessed by a beast, he lives in fear of the times when his inner dragon comes out and he’s a danger to everyone around him.
Mary Luce has unwittingly found herself in the vampire world, and under Rhage’s protection. With her own life-threatening curse to bear, she’s not looking for love. Besides, she’s stopped believing in saving grace and miracles long ago. But when Rhage’s intense sexual attraction turns into emotional bonding, he knows he must have her for his mate. As their enemies close in, Mary finds herself praying for something she fears she’ll never have: life eternal with the one she loves.
I don’t know why this book speaks to me in the fall because there’s nothing outwardly fall-ish about the story. Except for the fact that the hero is a vampire and Halloween is in the fall. But I think it has to do the heroine Mary. Her sacrifice in this book always makes me weep. She accepts her choice so willingly, despite her own heartbreak, and it reminds me that even when dreams die, and you submit to the hopelessness of the truth you never wanted to face, that fate always finds a way to reward you.
Dark Prince by Christine Feehan
Amazon Blurb: Breathtaking story of a beautiful hunter with extraordinary telepathic abilities captivated by the powerful allure of a tormented prince of the mysterious Carpathians.
Yes, another vampire novel. But this one takes place in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. The setting alone evokes everything about Autumn, but the emotions are what draw me back year after year. Like JR Ward’s book above, this heroine has to make heart-wrenching choices. Yet all of her decisions are made to protect the family she never thought she could have and would do anything to protect. It’s less about magic and fangs and more about family and love.
Which leads me to the next book:
Dark Celebration by Christine Feehan
This book is a reunion book of Ms. Feehan’s Carpathian Hunters and their families at a Thanksgiving celebration. And reading about “vampires” trying to outdo each other while cooking meals they’ve never cooked, and playing football without knowing the rules, will make you laugh out loud. This book is ALL about family, feasts, and forgiveness. It’s about grace and gratitude. And nothing represents fall more than stories about grace and gratitude.
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Amazon blurb: Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy. As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.
Although this book starts in the summer, it evokes the feelings of desperateness and longing more than any other book I’ve read in a long time. Maybe because it’s a YA romance (yes, it is a romance), or maybe because it’s written in almost complete stream of consciousness, this book is so over-the-top emotional that it plunges you into its depths with the first sentence. You feel, like the heroine Daisy, that you are trapped in a metaphorical deep well with moss-covered walls, at night, and no chance of help. Yet, just when things are the worst they can be, a tiny ray of light appears. And you realize that love will even defeat the horrors of war. (They made a movie of this book! It’s on Netflix and it’s wonderful albeit disturbing.)
Red Mortal by Deidre Knight
Amazon blurb: Leonidas has long led his fellow immortal warriors in battle with quiet, unyielding strength. But when Daphne, Oracle of Delphi, confesses to having loved him from afar, Leo finds his stoic shell breaking away. Just as their love ignites, Daphne’s half-brother Ares strips Leonidas of his immortality. Now, it’s just a matter of time before Leonidas is taken from her-unless they can find a way to challenge Ares together.
Again, this story doesn’t take place in the fall but it relies heavily on the themes of redemption, hopelessness against fate, and family. But mostly it’s a story of forgiveness. Forgiveness of self, of brother, of God. It’s my favorite of the Gods of Midnight series because it so beautifully describes the heartache we cause ourselves and others when we don’t allow others into our hearts. Yes, it almost sounds like a Christmas book. But because this story is driven by the need for family, and gratitude for those we’ve love and lost, it falls firmly in the Autumn pile.
Seriously. Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow? The Tell-Tale Heart? The Raven?
The emotions these two authors serve up don’t get any more dark or scary or intense. Mr. Poe and Mr. Irving were masters of emotional manipulation, and their collected works are two of the treasures on our family’s keeper shelf.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the list and now I’d love to hear from you. What books evoke the emotions of your favorite holidays? I’d love to know!
Thank your for spending the day with us. Below is a link of my Golden Heart sisters who are participating in today’s blog party. Hope to see you next month!
All photos courtesy of Sharon Wray.