― Carolyn MacCullough
As I look out of my window, the trees are turning red and gold, and the breeze has lost its summer warmth. The transition to autumn is magical, but there’s an undercurrent of darkness foreshadowing the winter to come. It makes sense that Hallowe’en celebrations are a blend of light and shadow.
In fact, Hallowe’en is more of a blend than I realised. This year, while I was figuring out my Hallowe’en reading choices, I researched a little of the history too, and I was surprised by what I discovered. I always thought Samhain and Hallowe’en were pretty much the same thing, but I was wrong. Samhain came first, and by a long way.
The ancient Celts celebrated the changing of the seasons with four festivals. Of these, Samhain was the most important, marking the end of the harvest before the new year officially began on 1st November. And because the division between worlds was believed to be at its thinnest, Samhain was also a time to remember the dead. Extra places were set at the dinner table to welcome home visiting ancestors. People dressed in costumes and masks to discourage unfriendly spirits, while offerings of food and drink were left out in the hopes of persuading those spirits not to make mischief. Huge bonfires were meant to mimic the sun and protect against the long winter.
Evidence that people honoured their ancestors at Samhain goes back thousands of years. The Mound of the Hostages, a passage tomb in Ireland, is even older than the Egyptian pyramids, and the passage inside is illuminated by the sun every year on the morning of Samhain. Can you imagine what it would be like to experience that particular sunrise? I created a fictional passage tomb for my ghostly villain in Connecting Magic, and I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to visit a real tomb on October 31st…
Hallowe’en, or All Hallow’s Eve, didn’t line up with Samhain until the tenth century. It was Pope Gregory IV who moved All Hallow’s Day (also known as All Saints’ Day) to 1st November. Inevitably, elements of the pagan and Christian festivals were combined over time—a process that apparently accelerated in the nineteenth century, when many Irish families made new lives for themselves in North America.
Here in the UK, the popularity of Hallowe’en insofar as it relates to trick-or-treating, decorations, and pumpkins has grown a lot in the last decade. Of course, we have Bonfire Night on 5th November too, so there’s a lot going on at this time of year! Perhaps I should write a blog post about the infamous Guy Fawkes in the future…
In the meantime, I’ve added three new (to me) books to my TBR list in recognition of Hallowe’en and Samhain. I should mention that I have a really low tolerance for horror, but I still wanted to choose something with a darker theme. I settled on poison. I hope you find the books interesting, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today 🎃🧡🖤.
The Confectioner's Guild, by Claire Luana
Tagline: A magic cupcake. A culinary killer. The perfect recipe for murder.
Description: Wren knew her sweet treats could work wonders, but she never knew they could work magic. She barely has time to wrap her head around the stunning revelation when the head of the prestigious Confectioner’s Guild falls down dead before her. Poisoned by her cupcake. Now facing murder charges in a magical world she doesn’t understand, Wren must discover the true killer or face the headsman’s axe…
Extract: A laugh escaped from him, surprisingly warm against the chill of the dark room. “Like I said, I’m here to take your confession.”
She felt hollow as the weight of her predicament settled upon her. There was no way out. No hope of convincing this man of the truth, no proving herself innocent. He knew the truth. And he was here to ensure it died with her.
Poison Study, by Maria V. Snyder
Tagline: How much is your life worth?
Description: In the territory of Ixia the government maintains control through the Code of Behaviour, forbidding the practice of magic, but danger lurks in mysterious places…
Imprisoned for murder, Yelena Zaltana’s punishment is death, until she is reprieved—for a price. As the Commander of Ixia’s food taster she will risk assassination from poison daily, a position she would be a fool to refuse…
Extract: Valek picked up the vial of antidote and twirled it in the sunlight. “You need a daily dose of this to stay alive. The antidote keeps the poison from killing you. As long as you show up each morning in my office, I will give you the antidote. Miss one morning, and you’ll be dead by the next. Commit a crime or an act of treason and you’ll be sent back to the dungeon until the poison takes you. I would avoid that fate, if I were you.”
Lies Like Poison, by Chelsea Pitcher
Tagline: The recipe for the perfect murder…
Description: Poppy, Lily, and Belladonna would do anything to protect their best friend, Raven. So when they discovered he was suffering abuse at the hands of his stepmother, they came up with a lethal plan to stop her from ever hurting Raven again. But someone got cold feet, the plot faded to a secret of the past, and the group fell apart.
Three years later, on the eve of Raven’s seventeenth birthday, his stepmother turns up dead and Belladonna is carted off to jail. Desperate to prove her innocence, Belle reaches out to her estranged friends, but who can she trust?
Extract: “I’ve already spoken with Lily,” Detective Medina said, as Jack touched the doorknob. She turned, slowly, to see him holding the Recipe for the Perfect Murder in his hand. “When I showed her the recipe, she started stammering about Belle’s innocence. I didn’t know the two were friends. What was their relationship like before Lily went to stay at the facility?”
Jack swallowed, a pang of fear shooting through her stomach. A pang of warning. “They hated each other.”