What I've Been Reading in October

Last October, I leaned into reading a few creepy classics - a handful of perfectly fallish books that delivered a few thrills and chills without downright scaring me senseless. (If you're into being scared senseless, you'll love Heather's list of Classic and Contemporary Creepy Fiction. She has an affinity for the harder stuff, too.)

This year I decided to repeat the process, expanding my horizons to include both classic and contemporary thrillers, and OH BOY! What an awesome month of fun, fall-time reads I've enjoyed in the process!

If you're Jonesing for some fun, fallish fiction for yourself, I invite you to check out What I've Been Reading in October - an eclectic look at thrillers and chillers from the best writers from the past and present (with a few bonus books thrown in for unseasonal readers).

A Sparrow Falls Holiday by Donna McLean

I read A Sparrow Falls Holiday this month as part of the 22 in '22 Reading Challenge. It is a collection of cozy mysteries by author Donna McLean and y'all, it is full of feel-good vibes and cozy short mysteries set in a location near and dear to the author - the Carolinas. This clever book of short stories reminds me of Jan Karon's Mitford, if Mitford were shrouded in Mystery.

In A Sparrow Falls Holiday, the reader is treated to four seasonal cozy mysteries:

  • December's cozy mystery is an unexpected jewel heist with the most unlikely of thieves.
  • February's mystery was, appropriately, an unexpected love story - one I would particularly love to read as a full-length novel.
  • July's story is an all-American, Marple-esque mystery.
  • October's read like a throwback to childhood, sitting 'round the campfire telling ghost stories.

Donna McLean's cozy mystery series set in idyllic Sparrow Falls should definitely be on everyone's must-read list. You can check out Donna's catalog of titles at her website (Sparrow Falls Mystery) and then stop by to say "Hi!" at Quaint Cottage Mysteries on Facebook. I know she'd love to meet you.

(Click here to watch Pretty Literate Live: the one when author Donna McLean and I talk Mysteries.)

Grande Dames of Detection by Seon Manley and GoGo Lewis

I discovered Grande Dames of Detection: Two Centuries of Sleuthing Stories by the Gentle Sex in mid-September when my sister and I enjoyed some quality time together at my neighborhood used book store. Y'all, this gem was on clearance for a mere $2! I am overwhelmingly glad that I found it before she did because it is chock full of classic lady authors that know their way around a mystery! Grande Dames of Detection is a collection of nine short stories by nine must-read authors of the "gentle sex" - several that I had heard of (Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Baroness Orczy), but most of which were completely new to me. What made this particular collection engaging to me was the thoughtful introduction to each author - a page or two of interesting tidbits and facts about each author and her contribution to the genre.

It is safe to say that I loved the authors included in this collection so much that I am eager to include some of them in the Pretty Literate Monthly Book Club in 2023. 

If you can find this 1973, out-of-print publication, get it. It was flawless.

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I first read The House of the Seven Gables over the summer because at the end of 2021, two of my Monthly Book Club members requested we read it in our private community this year and when I came across a Reader's Digest edition for only $2, I picked it up on impulse.

Reader, it was AH-mazing!

And I think that is high praise coming from me because I have kept a respectful distance from the author of The Scarlet Letter ever since my 11th grade English teacher forced that infuriating title upon me. (Still feeling a bit jaded about it, obviously. If you love it, apologies.)

But, back to The House of the Seven Gables...which was awesome and Hawthorne managed to keep that high opinion even the second time I read through it. I told my Monthly Book Club members that it was a ghost story without being a ghost story. It had an awesome Autumn vibe. The writing was elevated and beautiful with a side of snark and a little bit of cheeky. The characters are magnificently written - you either love them or you don't - and I love it when a writer is able to do that. The novel is a great conversation starter and packs a powerful punch of perspective. 

Hawthorne achieved a solid balance between thrilling and chilling without making the reader scared to enter a dark room, so for that he has redeemed his aforementioned blighted reputation with me by writing this flawless fall gem. 

The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

Last year, I hosted a Pretty Literate Live to talk about mysteries and one of my guests was Leah. Mysteries are her jam. During that Live, Leah shared her current obsession, The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen, commenting that "really, any book by Tess Gerritsen is going to be good." I tested that theory when I found a few at a local bookstore and discovered that Leah really knows what's she's talking about when it comes to must-read mysteries.

While I have been able to pick up a few Gerritsen titles over the past year, The Bone Garden has always been that hard-to-find title for me - until last month when my sister and I happened across a beautiful, hardbound copy in the clearance section for a mere $2! I could not wait to read it this month, knowing that I've enjoyed the author before and that this was Leah's designated "best of" by Gerritsen.

The Bone Garden was a mystery spanning two centuries and as the mystery unfolded in the present, the reader was treated to the full story from the past. Gerritsen wrote at an easy, yet engaging pace, which helped the reader to understand & organize the facts "in real time" as she read. The Bone Garden was full of so many surprises, twists, and I didn't see that coming's that I kept guessing (wrongly!) til the very end.

I think I would sum up The Bone Garden as a "happily ever after murder mystery" - and that speaks volumes.  

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Okay, you're likely going to roll your eyes at this point, but here goes...

I found Moonflower Murders on the clearance aisle last month while I was book shopping with my sister. 

I'd never heard of Anthony Horowitz before, so I had no preconceived notions of what I was getting into when I picked up this beautiful red book. Red is my favorite color and this simple red cover just spoke to me. So I got it.

I couldn't be more pleased to find a new author (and series!). Unknown to me at the time, Moonflower Murders turned out to be the second book in a 2-book series by Horowitz. Thankfully, the book read well as a stand-alone, and I enjoyed this second in the series so much that I already have the first one (Magpie Murders) checked out from my local library. (Look for that in What I've Been Reading in November next month.)

Moonflower Murders is really two books in one, a story within a story. The present-day murder mystery mimics one in a book written by the fictional author Alan Conway (creator of the brilliant Atticus Pünd, a fictional detective that is reminiscent of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot). The reader is invited to join present-day amateur detective Susan Reyland in solving a case, the clues for which are cleverly hidden within the pages of Atticus Pünd Takes the Case - a full length novel within this novel. (Confused yet? Don't worry. It makes more sense as you become engrossed in this excellent mystery which has the surprising bonus of being a delightful read for those that love seeing their favorite classic titles and authors' names dropped in more contemporary books.)

I did not know what I was getting into when I picked up this pretty red book, but I am now excited to dive deeper into the mysteries of author Anthony Horowitz.

Verity by Colleen Hoover

I went on a three-day camping trip with my husband mid-October and since we enjoy listening to good audiobooks during road trips, I did a quick library search to see if Verity (an insanely popular novel that kept popping up on social media the past year) was available. It was! I downloaded it, noticing that it was the perfect length to listen to during our road trip - half there, half on the return ride. 

Let me just say as an aside, that we knew nothing of Colleen Hoover before downloading this title. We have since learned that she writes a lot of Y.A. and Romance, but Verity is different because it is considered a Thriller, which made it perfect for an October road trip.

It is a difficult book to describe because while I cannot say it won my husband or me over, it hooked us. In fact, it hooked us so thoroughly that we began and finished it on Day 1 of our trip - and then spent the rest of the time trying to figure out what really happened, who did what, and deep-diving into the myriad of conspiracy theories Hoover's fans have posted on social media.

We shared all our thoughts on this pretty blush-worthy Pretty Literate Live, so check that out if, like us, you've been curious about Colleen Hoover's recent foray into Thrillers.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The second book I read this month for the 22 in '22 Reading Challenge was "a book recommended by a stranger." Since I spent the summer testing the waters at TikTok, I thought I would ask Pretty Literate's followers for a book rec. And they responded!

After narrowing the choices, I went with The Ten Thousand Doors of January for two reasons - the library had it available and the title is insanely intriguing (not to mention beautiful).

The Ten Thousand Doors of January reminded me of my days in Narnia. (Who doesn't love Narnia?)

In a nutshell, it is a fantasy novel that is long on adventure and big on taking the driver's seat in your own life. In other words, write your own story. Literally. (That's an Easter Egg for those who've read the book.)

Personally, the writing style was a little difficult for me to follow (think Cloud Cuckoo Land), but I can definitely see why it was recommended and, in the end, I am glad that I have that story tucked into the folds of my brain even if I cannot give it as hearty a recommendation as I would prefer. 

(Note: Fantasy isn't my jam, but if you have a preference for it, I could see why you'd enjoy this one.)

Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

I do a lot of what I call "research reading." I have to read a lot of classics in order to find all the gems we read inside the Monthly Book Box, after all. Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent was one of those books I read for research mainly because it was one of her two most-recommended titles and it also happens to be the one that most influenced her contemporary (and my distant relative), Sir Walter Scott.

Castle Rackrent was a short story, but one that unfortunately did not read as "fleshed out" as I prefer the shorts I introduce into our Monthly Book Club to feel. Published in 1800 and set in Ireland, Castle Rackrent tells the story not of an individual or family or even a village, but of an inanimate castle of stones. While it does encourage the reader to consider how she will invest the time given to her on this Earth (in relationships, like Old Thady? in gathering riches, like Young Thady? in gratifying the pleasures of the flesh, like Rackrent himself?), it is written in such a way that there seems to be no one for the reader to root for, no protagonist to cheer.

Maria Edgeworth was known as a writer that shone a light on the plight of the poor Irish of her day. Sadly, Castle Rackrent fell short of delivering that. For that reason, I ultimately decided that Castle Rackrent was a short story not destined to be shared inside The Classics Community.

Unbound by John Shors

I have been intrigued by author John Shors ever since my friend Mirah mentioned him in our Book Club, so you can imagine my excitement when our friend (and fellow Book Clubber), Amy, offered to send me her copy of Unbound not too long ago. It is a fascinating look at life in China, mostly along the Great Wall as it was being built in the 1500s, which is a time period I had never explored before and I was thrilled to find myself held spellbound while I read. It is a love story - at times between a man and his wife; at other times, between adults and children (appropriately); and still other times between male and female friends - all told against the immense backdrop of the conflict between the Chinese and Mongols that necessitated the building of the Great Wall.

It was an intriguing look at daily life - especially for the poor, most especially for females - that wove the barbaric custom of foot binding on young girls for the sake of status during that period into it. It is a tale of sacrifice, both for the good of society as well as for your loved ones. Bad was bad, good was good, and what could be accomplished through the power of unselfish love was inspiring.

If you're interested in diving deeper into Asian Literature or are curious about how the honor/shame worldview applies to daily life within that culture, Unbound is a very engaging title to add to your TBRs.

(In the effort of full disclosure, I began Unbound at the end of September and finished it toward the beginning of this month.)

What Have You Been Reading This Month?

Have you read any of the titles I shared? I would love to read your thoughts on them in the comments below.

What authors and titles would you recommend for a thrilling October read? Please share them in the comments, as well.

1 comment

  • I read House of the Seven Gables and really enjoyed myself after a little struggle in the first couple of chapters, and the final chapters were rewarding and so satisfying that I will probably read it again sometime! I read A Distant Murder by Donna McLean and I loved it! It was beautifully set in North Carolina and as we lived there 5 years it was very easy to put myself in this setting. The characters were fun and engaging (and as a born and bred southerner AND prior resident of NC they felt very authentic) and the mystery was one in which solving it was very meaningful to not one but two whole families and the inhabitants of the town (Sparrow Falls) in which it was set. In spite of having guessed the perpetrator of the murder within the first three chapters there were still a few twists in the plot that made me second guess myself, and I will be reading more of this series.
    I read Verity and got totally sucked into it. At first, after reading excerpts from one of the characters’ diary, I was almost positive that the author was actually a man, which I had also thought about the author of the Fifty Shades books; if you read it maybe you will understand why. It kept me twisted around in my thinking throughout and no matter how many scenarios I came up with, they were almost always wrong. All this said, I can’t say that I liked it, although it did keep reading until I finished it; and I can’t say I really DISliked it either, even though I’m not quite sure why! 😆

    Lynda A.

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