The best books to warm your heart and freeze your soul

The Books I Picked & Why

Cabal

By Clive Barker

Book cover of Cabal

Why this book?

This is one from my teenage years, and one of the first examples I read of 'monsters' having more humanity than a lot of humans.

On the surface, it's a good, pacey horror story about an institutionalised man who has been convinced that he's a murderer. But the themes of exclusion and belonging really speak to me, especially as a queer man who lives with anxiety and depression. The authority figures aren't to be trusted. The 'monstrous' is welcoming. The 'unnatural' is natural. Barker’s prose is flat-out gorgeous in places: "They were what the species he'd once belonged to could not bear to be. The un-people; the anti-tribe; humanity's sack unpicked and sewn together again with the moon inside." It still gives me shivers; oh, how I wanted to join them in Midian!


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The Ghost Drum: Book 1 of the Ghost World Sequence

By Susan Price

Book cover of The Ghost Drum: Book 1 of the Ghost World Sequence

Why this book?

The first in a trilogy from vastly underrated author Susan Price. This is on the surface a charming kids’ book, but moved me more and has haunted me for longer than most 'adult' novels (and is also remarkably dark.) Set in a fairy-tale some-when, somewhere in a blizzard-scoured kingdom, the young witch Chingis seeks to rescue a czarevitch from the tower in which he's imprisoned.
When I first read this book, I cried publicly on a train, it got to me so much. I'm envious of Price's skill at using simple language so exquisitely to conjure vivid, jewel-toned worlds and invoke both deep dread and soaring joy. It's a deceptively simple little tale of freedom, choice, destiny, privilege, responsibility, and love.


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The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson

Book cover of The Haunting of Hill House

Why this book?

There's a reason that this is considered a classic.

My best friend sent me a copy of this many years ago and I was absolutely transported by the captivating, atmospheric prose and just how horribly relatable I found Eleanor to be. Nothing has skewered my heart quite as much as "Insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again." That really sums up the whole book for me: yes, it's a subtly done yet frankly terrifying plummet into the psychology of fear, but it's also very much about finding your own way and your own place in the world - no matter where that may be or what it might cost you.


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The Passion

By Jeanette Winterson

Book cover of The Passion

Why this book?

"What you risk reveals what you value." This struck me so deeply when I first read it that I quote it to this day.

The Passion is a gorgeous, baroque, desperate symphony of a book. A love story spanning time and place, against the odds. The writing elevates the grotesque and disturbing to art. It leads you by the hand through the giddy, opulent confusion of Venice at Carnival and freezes you in the wintery depths of Napoleonic despair. It was one of the first books I read in my teens that was overtly queer and played with gender identity. It holds a very special place in my heart.


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The Repository of Lost Souls: Twelve Tales from the Heart

By Jane Roberts-Morpeth

Book cover of The Repository of Lost Souls: Twelve Tales from the Heart

Why this book?

I read this tiny collection of stories after chatting to the author on social media, and it's what got me reading again after two years of barely reading a thing.

Nostalgic, atmospheric, and vivid, these stories are sometimes stomach-churningly brutal. Even though a lot of them deal with the supernatural, it's the most mundane of situations that are the most anxiety-inducing. They took me right back to my own Northern childhood, with all the mystery, boredom, wonder, and terror it entailed. A very emotional collection with as much heart as heartbreak, wrapped up in chiming prose.


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