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The October List: Ten Books to Match the Tenth Month

Timing is everything. Like slurping sorbets in summer, or stirring stew in the depths of winter, there is something soothing to the soul about reading the right book at the appropriate time of year. The books in this list make it easy; the clue is in the titles.

October. ..it’s a good word, with that pleasingly matter-of -fact opening and the chilling brrrr at the end, no wonder so many authors have found it a shortcut to a snappy title.

On a side note, October, eight month of the Roman calendar was known to the Anglo-Saxons as Winterfylleth, as it was at this full moon that winter fyll, or fell. There’s another wonderful word, winterfylleth, just begging to be used in the title of a novel.

October tells you something. It brings to mind the crunch underfoot of frost-bitten leaves, the smell of wood-smoke, the pleasingly alliterative colour orange. It is a time to fill a pot of coffee, huddle under blankets, and sink into a good book. 

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 October hints at melancholy, time passing, loss and lament. But, these aren’t all sad books. They range from thrilling to tear-jerking, heart-stopping to hilarious. Whether you’re seeking a trick or a treat, there’s an October book to suit. 

The October List

Jeffery Deaver boasts a back-list of thirty crime novels including the enormously successful Lincoln Rhyme and Kathryn Dance series. The October List is a stand-alone novel and a clever experiment in plot construction. If you enjoy movies like Memento, that fracture the timeline and mess with your head, this is the October book for you. The book begins with what is, in fact, the final chapter. The story then unravels in reverse to reveal the plot. Confused? That's the point.

We meet Gabriela McKenzie as she waits anxiously in a safe house for news of her kidnapped daughter. The abductor has demanded a large ransom and the delivery of a document mysteriously referred to as The October List. When Gabriella opens the door she comes face-to-face with the kidnapper wielding a gun and a crazed grin.

The October List takes the reader from total bewilderment to astonished satisfaction. It is enjoyable as much for the intricate engineering as it is for the unpredictable ending, or is that beginning?

You’ll want to read it twice.

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The Hunt for Red October

First published in 1984 by the U.S. Naval Institute Press, The Hunt for Red October was the book that catapulted Tom Clancy from insurance broker to blockbuster superstardom. It was described at the time by President Ronald Reagan as ‘the perfect yarn.’ Set at the tail end of the cold war, the book is loosely inspired by a true story and so accurate in its detail that Clancy was rumoured to have been debriefed by the White House.

Marko Alexandrovich Ramius is the disillusioned commander of a Soviet submarine (you’ll be forgiven for reading him with a Scottish accent since Sean Connery so thoroughly claimed the role). The Red October is an experimental, nuclear-powered vessel whose revolutionary stealth propulsion system makes it both a threat and a potential prize to the Americans. The book opens with Ramius and his submarine steaming towards America and the Soviet fleet in hot pursuit. Ramius wants to defect. The U.S. wants Red October. Moscow won’t let either of those things happen. Enter our iconic hero, Jack Ryan, ex-marine and CIA agent, come to save the day.

For anyone with an interest in Naval history or submarines, Red October comes replete with an abundance, possibly an over-abundance, of technical details and specifications. If you’re like me, you can glance over all that and enjoy superb character development and nail-biting tension. Clancy’s first big hit stands the test of time and remains a gripping military thriller. 

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The October Country

If you’re looking for tales of the unexpected, Ray Bradbury is always a good place to start. His masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, was avant-garde in style and content and remains shockingly relevant today.

The October Country is a collection of Bradbury’s short stories which has been reprinted to include an excellent essay on writing. Bradbury encourages budding writers to listen carefully to the ‘Theater of Morning Voices.’ Certainly, many authors have found inspiration in Bradbury’s clean prose and honest style.

‘The October Country...that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; Where noons go quickly, dusks and twilight linger, and midnights stay.’

This haunting collection features a macabre cast of mummies and skeletons and catacombs filled with the screaming dead. They stretch from deeply unsettling to downright creepy –don’t say you weren’t warned. 

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October Skies

In 2008, two English documentary makers discover the remains of a doomed wagon trail and figure they could be on to a good story. They then, rather conveniently, happen across a journal which helps them to piece together what happened back in 1856...

In 1856, a wagon trail of 130 people hits harsh weather forcing the settlers to reluctantly wait out the winter in the woods of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Their reluctance is intensified by their wariness of the native Indian population and seems justified when, one after another, the settlers are picked off by an unknown killer.

We follow both timelines to discover the shocking truth.

Alex Scarrow worked as a graphic artist and designer of computer games before succumbing to the writing bug. His style remains highly visual. This is one of those terrifying books that makes you wish you could read with your hands over your eyes screaming, ‘tell me when it’s over,’ or is that just me?

October Skies is a mixed bag of politics and psychoanalysis but mostly it is a gruesome thriller rooted in the scary power of charismatic individuals. I recommend having a reading buddy nearby who is happy to have their hand squeezed.

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October

China Miéville is an award-winning author best known for his excellent fantasy fiction. That he would turn to writing narrative history, and of a subject so complex as the Russian Revolution, may seem a mystery until you learn that Miéville has been a card-carrying socialist and this book is a labour of love.

In the nine months between February and October of 1917, Russia was transformed from an autocratic monarchy to the world’s first socialist state. How did that happen?

Miéville applies his gifted story-telling to produce an approachable history for the average reader. This book is not written for scholars and does not attempt to be wholly comprehensive. Rather, it makes the whole affair into a concise and compelling read. This October marks the centenary; you’ll never find a better time to read about the Russian Revolution.

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October

October is the story of Mercia Murray – a middle-aged woman in search of a home.

Mercia, in common with the author, is a well-educated South African woman who has worked as an English lecturer in Scotland for many years. Her life has been unencumbered, academic and deliberately child-free.

When her partner, a Scottish poet, leaves her, Marcia loses her bearings. A letter from her brother lures her back to Africa, to the Namaqualand region where she was raised. There, at least, October might warm her bones as it is a month she hates in Scotland. Marcia finds her brother sunk by alcoholism and his five-year-old son neglected.

Marcia wades through grief and memories until she comes to terms with her heritage and a new responsibility. October is a thoughtful book, slow-moving and quiet. It begins as a book about mid-life crisis and resolves into a coming-of-age story for the more mature amongst us. The writing is richly textured and insightful. This is a book that will make you think about your values and what makes a place home.

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October Dreams

Scary stories are an essential ingredient of a proper Halloween and you need look no further than this MASSIVE anthology. October Dreams is a collection of short stories, novellas and memoir pieces written by some of the best known authors of dark fantasy.

Choose from the tale of a cursed Jack-O-Lantern by master of horror, Dean Koontz, the melancholy story about a kidnapped child by Jack Ketchum, a Halloween poem by Ray Bradbury and many, many more.

The stories range in atmosphere from gruesome to goofy but, in general, steer clear of gratuitous violence. The stuff Halloween nightmares are made of.

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Silence in October

October seems a good time to venture north and explore some Scandinavian fiction. Anne Born’s translation of this novel from Danish to English has been highly commended.

Our unnamed narrator is a Danish art critic whose wife of eighteen years leaves him, without any explanation, just as he is packing his bags for a business trip to New York. Bewildered, he follows his wife’s movements by tracking her credit card and discovers that she is re-tracing a trip they once took together to Portugal.

What follows is his silent meditation on the course of their life together, on love and marriage, on art and conversation. It is a deeply introspective novel but surprisingly compelling. Grøndell tells a grown-up love story about imperfect people. It reads as honest and revelatory which makes it interesting and pulls it up just short of pretentious. Take it with a huge mug of cocoa and sticky pastry.

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October the Octopus

It’s fair to say that, in this list, this final book is the odd Octopus out but his name is October so here he is. We shall not discriminate against cephalopods or very short books.

October the Octopus, a good buddy of Monday the Bullfrog, is a huggable book which teaches toddlers about the months of the year. Van Fleet’s concept books introducing the smallest readers to colours, shapes and numbers have topped the New York Times bestsellers list and deservedly so.

With just fourteen pages of cuteness, October the Octopus is definitely NOT scary but, watch out, there is a surprise ending.

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For fear all that doesn't adequately stock up your to-be-read pile, I have one, final but excellent recommendation. Neil Gaiman personifies the month of October in his own inimitable, weird but wonderful, style in a short story called October in the Chair which you can find in his 2006 collection, Fragile Things.

I'm going to allow Mr. Gaiman the final word:

'October knew, of course, that the action of turning a page, of ending a chapter or of shutting a book, did not end a tale.'


Irish blogger and book reviewer. Official contributor to Bookwitty.com and author of Bookwitty's monthly 'Cooking the Books' feature. Erstwhile microbiologist with an MSc in Food Science, she ... Show More