The Fiction Fox
Fall Update, a Tag and TBR to battle my reading-slump...
Updated: Oct 2, 2022
Let me start todays post off with an unpopular opinions I HATE the autumn...
I know, I know; the crispy leaves, hot drinks and cosy reading times make it many booklovers favourite genre, but to me, it’s always been the worst time of year. I hate the shortening days, being cold all the time, and the dreary, rainy days that are the posterchild of Dutch autumnal weather.
My disability makes cold take a larger toll on my body than average, and I find myself dreading the colder weather from the time the first leaves turn. Although winter of course comes with all the same side-effects, it at least comes with the promise of better days to come; lengthening days, a holiday break and spring around the corner to lift the mood.
In all honesty; this year’s autumn-blues kicked in harder than usual. I’ve mentioned briefly in a recent post already that I’m currently not in the best place health-wise and it’s starting to take its effects on my mental wellbeing as well. I’m currently in the biggest readingslump I’ve been in for years, and trying desperately to get excited about reading or talking about any books at this point. I figured I’d help myself get started by doing a tag and putting my own spin on it.
It's Finally Fall Tag/TBR:
I’ll be doing the It’s Finally Fall Book-tag, with a twist. For each prompt I’ll pick not one, but two books: a fitting fall-favourite to recommend, and a book from my TBR that I think would fit the prompt. The ten books I pick as a result will function as my personal fall-TBR, to help me get back a little structure in my reading plans. Without further ado, let’s talk about the books.
1. In fall, the air is crisp and clear: name a book with a vivid setting: Recommendation: The Queens of Innis Lear – Tessa Gratton I’m going with one of my favourite autumnal fantasies, set on an island that hums with ancient natural magic, and characters as ruthless as the tides.The Queens of Innis Lear is a loose fantasy retelling of Shakespear’s classic, in which an erratic king refuses to pick an heir for the crown between his three daughters. Tessa Gratton lush writing brings together this world and its characters to the point where you can smell the damp leaves, and feel the crisp air during your read. It’s on the more character-based, “denser” side of fantasy, and the lyrical writing has put some people off it, but to me that’s what made this novel so special. If you enjoyed lyrical fantasy like The Nightcircus or the more recently released A River Enchanted, this one might be for you.
On my TBR: The Ghost Woods – C.J. Cooke Last year’s Halloween-read for me was The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke, which I devoured ravenously, so it felt only fitting to give the honours of opening this fall’s TBR to Cooke's latest release: The Ghost Woods. This book has yet to be released (I was lucky enough to get an ARC via the publisher), so I haven’t heard anything other than the synopsis. A haunted manor shrouded in folklore – old stories of ghosts, of witches, of a child who was not quite a child. A woman sent there to give birth. An unexpected meeting with someone who came before, and a quest to uncover the secrets buried amongst the trees. This promises similar themes of motherhood, nature and hauntings that The Nesting and The Lighthouse Witches had, so I’m very excited to see what C.J. Cooke does with this new setting and narrative.
2. Nature is beautiful… but also dying: name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic like loss or grief. Recommendation: Our Wives Under the Sea – Julia Armfield I have a full list of favourite grief-themed novels, but I’m giving the spotlight to one of my favourite reads of this year that not nearly enough people have picked up. Our Wives Under the Sea is a literary horror novel that ticks about all of my boxes; it centres around themes of isolation, grief, the ocean and features the psychological unravelling of our two female protagonists and the sensation of defamiliarization within their relationship. Stunning writing, atmosphere, character work and genuinely unnerved me on an almost subliminal way, that I haven’t experienced since Annihilation.
On my TBR: The Undead Truth of Us – Britney S. Lewis I initially picked up this book from the New Releases Table purely based off the stunning cover, but was hooked when I heard the premise: a teenage girl, mourning the death of her mother, becomes convinced her mum has turned into a zombie, and undertakes a quest to find out why. This novel was compared to The Astonishing Colour of After (an all-time favourite of mine), and promises a culturally relevant take on the zombie mythology that I haven’t quite seen before. Although I’m not quite sure what to expect, I’m excited to find out.
3. Fall is back to school season: share a non-fiction book that taught you something new. Recommendation: Sitting Pretty – Rebekah Taussig Let me take this opportunity to shout out one of my all-time favourite disability reads, that is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the subject. Sitting Pretty is the memoir by author and disability advocate Rebekah Taussig in which she chronicles her experience of being young and physically disabled. From growing up as a paralyzed teen in the 90’s, to building up a life in a world that doesn’t suit your body, to becoming a parent whilst being wheelchair-bound. This book is full of relatable truths, insightful comments, but above all the radiant endurance and positivity of a genuinely wonderful and eloquent woman. Reading this book was like talking to a friend about these topics, in a way that I hadn’t had the chance to do in real life. Highly recommend to anyone, able-bodied or otherwise.
On my TBR: Between Two Kingdoms – Suleika Jaouad Between Two Kingdoms has been one of the most spoken about and praised pieces of disability- and cancer-literature of recent years, and I haven’t gotten to reading it yet. This is the memoir and story of a young woman’s journey of a cancer-diagnosis, treatment, remission and everything that follows after. It’s about the misconception that “being cured” from cancer is the end of it, while in fact it’s merely the beginning of the healing process. As a young-cancer survivor who, like Suleika, statistically should’ve died from her illness and carries physical disabilities and scars to this day; I should know this like no other reader. It's that same “closeness” to the topic that’s kept me from picking it up, and I’m frankly not sure if this is the right time to do so either. I’ve decided to give it a go nonetheless and see what happens. This is either going to be a powerful cathartic experience, or an absolute nightmare. Wish me luck.
4. In order to keep warm, it’s good to spend some time with the people we love: name a fictional family/household/friend-group that you’d like to be a part of. Recommendation: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches – Sangu Mandanna I could make a full list of my favourite fictional (found) families, as it’s one of my favourite tropes ever (let me know if you’d like that list). As for now, I’d like to recommend the most recent book to give me those warm fuzzy feelings The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches is a whimsical, witchy fantasy in the style of House in the Cerulean Sea, about Mika; a young contemporary witch who’s lived most of her life in self-imposed isolation, to hide her magic away. Her only outlet for her powers is her youtube-channel where she “pretends to be a witch” online. That all changes when she receives a message from a mysterious viewer who recognized a real witch when they saw one. They offer Mika a job as a live-in nanny and tutor to three young witches to learn them control their powers. Magical hijinx, adventures, and a whole lot of wholesomeness ensues.
On my TBR: Locklands – Robert Jackson Bennett I’ve just started this novel as I’m writing this post, and despite the depth of my slump, it’s managing to evoke that feeling of returning to a group of friends that I love in this series. If you love a high-fantasy series with an intricate magic system and heist-elements (think Six of Crows or first era Mistborn), you cannot pass up on The Foundryside trilogy. We begin our story with Sanchia, a thief living from contract to contract on the streets of the merchant city of Tevanne. When she’s sent to steal an unusual target, a strange key of seemingly little value, Sanchia is unknowingly thrust into a world of alchemical magic known as scribing, that may change her future, and that of the city, for good. The series of course builds upon itself, and by the 3rd book it far extends the scope of that brief synopsis. What doesn’t change throughout is our tightknit core-cast of characters and their friendship. I have a feeling the author might break my heart with this conclusion, but I’m ready for it.
5. The colourful leaves are piling up on the ground: name a book with a cover that streams “fall”. Recommendation: Spellbook of the Lost and Found – Moira Fowley Doyle Although this book itself takes place in the late summer, you cannot tell me that this cover doesn’t fit that description perfectly. On top of that, we have an atmospheric tale of contemporary witches, spellbooks and secrets to be uncovered. It’s a book that takes some effort to keep the different storylines straight, but it’s definitely worth the trouble if you’re in the market for a witchy read.
On my TBR: House of Glass – Susan Fletcher Gothic fiction and autumn are a match made in heaven, so I’m quite excited to be putting this novel on my TBR regardless. This leafy cover is only an added bonus. June 1914, Clara Waterfield is summoned to a large stone house in Gloucestershire, in order to fill a greenhouse with exotic plants from Kew Gardens, to create a private paradise for the owner of Shadowbrook. Yet, on arrival, it quickly becomes clear that something unsettling is happening at this estate. Rumours circulate about a haunting in the gardens and empty hallways of Shadowbrook Manor, and it’s up to Clara to find out what’s real, and what’s superstition. I’m told this book has vibes of Rebecca, ánd features a disabled protagonist, which we don’t see too often in gothic fiction, so I have high hopes.
6. Fall is the perfect time for some storytelling by the fireside: share a book wherein somebody is telling a story. Recommendation: The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman I’m sure many of you wanted me to recommend the obvious Kingkiller Chronicles, but I’m taking a different route today. The Ocean at the End of the Lane features one of my favourite tropes: a middle-aged returning to his childhood home, and reliving the strange and distorted memories of the time he spent there as a child. It’s stunningly brilliant book that captures the dreamlike (or in this case nightmarish) quality of revisiting our childhood experiences through the lens of our adult minds. It’s one of my favourite books of all time, and one of Neil Gaimans most popular works for good reason. Another book that features this trope of revisiting childhood memories with an adult outlook is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This one takes a tragic tone, rather than a horrifying one, but is equally as impactful for it.
On my TBR: The First Binding – RR Virdi The First Binding is one of my most anticipated fantasy releases of the year and features (much like The Kingkiller Chronicals) a man recounting his lifestory of adventures, misfortune and legends born from his name. The blurb simply says: “All legends are born of truths. And just as much lies. These are mine. Judge me for what you will. But you will hear my story first.” If this book is even close to as good as The Name of the Wind ánd Virdi actually manages to finish this series, this is going to be an instant favourite.
7. The nights are getting darker: share a dark, creepy read. Recommendation: Black Mouth – Ronald Malfi Finally, the perfect opportunity to shout out one of my newly discovered favourite horror-authors, and his latest release. Black Mouth is a small-town supernatural horror novel that with themes of grief, guilt, shame and trauma, and the ways a childhood-event can haunt a person into adulthood. We follow Jamie, a broken and struggling man who revisits his childhood hometown after the death of his mother. Here he’s reunited with the life he thought he left behind years ago; his rickety family home on the edges of the abandoned mines that surround the town, his disabled brother and his childhood friends Mia and Clay. It doesn’t take long for history to repeat itself and for strange events that happened many years ago between this group of friends to echo back into present day. Black Mouth reminded me in many ways of Stephen Kings It, but without some of the problematic content. That’s about the highest recommendation I can give a horror-novel. If you’re in the market for a young-adult novel with similar themes (a rural town surrounded by creepy, possibly haunted mines and a strong focus on family dynamic), you might like The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould. Less effective for me personally, but definitely worth a read if you’re in the market for a YA-horror.
On my TBR: What Moves the Dead – T. Kingfisher Speaking of favourite horror-authors, I don’t think I can make a fall-themed post without featuring T. Kingfisher. With her atmospheric writing and talent for balancing genuinely unsettling horror with vivid characters and darkly hilarious humour, I’ve loved everything this woman has written. Luckily I have one final book by her left to read this October, and it sounds even more up my alley than her previous works. What Moves the Dead is a gothic retelling of the classic Fall of the House of Usher, featuring a team of a retired soldier, a renowned mycologist and a medical doctor, as they set out to investigate a mysterious illness that’s afflicting the people of the ancestral House of Usher. What they find there is a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife, surrounding a dark, pulsing lake, and people haunted by more than just a physical affliction.
8. The days are getting colder: name a short, heartwarming read that could warm up somebody’s cold and rainy day. Recommendation: Leila and the Blue Fox – Kiran Millwood Hargrave “Short and heartwarming” immediately brings to mind to middle-grade for me. This October release, that I had the privilege of reading early, would fit that description perfectly. Leila and the Blue Fox is the second collaboration of Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom the Freston, following Julia and the Shark. Although a complete standalone, Leila follows a similar structure of combining a layered tale of a young girl dealing with a tough personal situation at home, paralleled with a story of our natural world and one of the endangered animals within it. I have a full review up in case you want more info about the book, but I’d recommend diving in without too much upfront knowledge. Hargrave & de Frestons books are tactile experiences that combine visual and narrative storytelling to make for a completely unique experience for readers of all ages.
On my TBR: Healer of the Water Monster – Bryan Young Similar to many of my favourite middle-grade stories, I’m expecting this story to warm my heart, but not before absolutely breaking it first. I don’t know too many details on this one, but I picked it up because it’s an all-time favourite of Bowties and Books, whom opinions I trust (especially when it comes to own-voice representation of cultural minorities). It’s a story of a young Navajo boy who meets and befriends a creature from his native mythology, whilst staying the summer with his Nani. It promises themes of cultural differences, mental health, grief and family love through the lens of a young boy and his faith in the stories he grew up hearing. I’m hoping it’s as wonderful and impactful as I’m anticipating it to be.
9. Fall returns every year: name an old favourite that you’d like to return to soon.
Elatsoe – Darcie Little Badger I love a good ghost-story in October, but my current reading-slump also has me in the mood for something wholesome. Elatsoe is one of my favourite reads of last year that combined those two elements perfectly. In this Navajo mythology inspired magical realism, we follow the titular protagonist (Eli), who has inherited the ability to raise and see the spirits of deceased animals from her native family lineage. When her beloved cousin is murdered tragically in a nearby town, Eli must put her smarts, wit and abilities to the test to find out the truth and protect her family. The particular ghost “wholesome ghost” in question is Elatsoe’s sidekick; the spirit of their family’s springer spaniel who’s hung out as a ghost-pet after its passing. What more could you want than a happy ghost-dog…?
That concludes my It’s Finally Fall Recommendations, as well as my self-imposed autumnal TBR. I’d be very curious to hear what book you’re most anticipating to read this autumn. If you haven’t had enough seasonal content, I have a post on Seasonal Recommendations section up already, where I talk about my favourite autumnal tropes and recommend books based off them. Stay tuned for my upcoming post of New Releases to Read this Autumn, as well as my Halloween special, which will feature my Guide to Ghost-stories. Until then, happy reading!