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Top Books for Spooky Season


Ah, my favorite time of year. Although the weather has not been cooperating, that still doesn't stop me from enjoying the best season. I've never been a fan of summer or the heat, so once September 1 hits, I immediately get excited and start leaning into autumnal spirit.


No matter what kind of book vibe you're going for this month, I've got you covered. Here are my top recommendations for spooky season.

 

Dark Academia


In my bookish opinion, this is the absolute godfather of all dark academia literature. I would even go as far as to say it is the first purposeful genre setting dark academia novel --- so many that I've read since are clearly influenced by this book, and for good reason. It has one of the most distinctly autumnal vibes I've ever encountered.


The Secret History follows a young man as he enrolls in a college in New England and befriends a group of strange misfit students, all who worship their Greek professor. You learn from the first chapter that they commit a heinous crime, although the novel then goes back and tells the entire story, both leading up to the event and the years after. In theory, the mystery of 'who done it' gets taken away, but the thrill of this book continues long after the last page.


The characters are very unlikable (at least for me). They are pretentious, careless, and consider themselves elite. It's strange to read an entire 559 page book and never grow to like the characters. But this is surprisingly what makes this book so impactful. There were so many points in the plot that I was screaming, that I was rolling my eyes, that I was pissed off at every single person, which made this book hit hard. The narrator's thoughts haunted me, as they haunted him, and the anticipation of them all getting caught was lurking behind every page. The ending shocked me, and the last few pages left an eerie feeling inside of me that I couldn't shake for days, and isn't that exactly what a great book is supposed to do?

 

This is a book that was so clearly influenced by The Secret History. It even follows a similar plot line, but I never minded because it was gripping and unique in its own right.


If We Were Villains opens with a man who was in prison for ten years for murder, although it's clear from the beginning that his imprisonment might have been unjustified. The story goes back and forth between present-day Oliver, who is recently released, and his group of college friends from a decade ago. This Shakespeare-obsessed clan has secrets that spill through the pages at unexpected times, each member hiding their own motivations or desires.


What a majestic, beautifully written, unsettling book. There were moments I was at the edge of my seat, anxiously reading and wondering if that chapter would hold the details to the murder, to who did it, and why. The thrill of 'whodunit' isn't necessarily driving the story --- it's more about the personality of each character, the anxiety I felt as I watched the events unfold. The moral quandaries felt remarkably relatable and believable, which I find is difficult in a book about murder.


Try to read this book during a chilly and rainy night, and prepare for an intoxicating ride.

 

The Starless Sea was one of my favorite reads of 2020 and I never understand why it doesn't get more hype on the internet. The story centers around Zachary Ezra Rawlins, an introverted graduate student who is way too into his books and love of reading (sound familiar?). He discovers a mysterious book in his school library and reads something that shakes him to his core: a story from his own childhood. He begins a desperate search to find out how his own life came to be recorded in a book, and that search leads him to a secret club, an ancient library in New York, and a magical world that is hidden beneath the surface of the earth. Zachary learns of the sacrifices countless souls have made to preserve the sanctity of story-telling, and he begins to realize he may have to make a similar sacrifice.


The Starless Sea has everything I adore about fiction ---- a story rooted in magical realism, a main character obsessed with books and adventure, and the most enchanting prose I've read in years. Time and time again, this book filled me with that giddy, heart-skipping excitement that I get when I read a story that makes me feel like the fantastical is hidden behind a door that I have yet to discover. I feel like a child again when I read books like this one, hopeful that magic exists if I'm observant enough to find it. Honestly, if I were to write a fictional book, it would be extremely close to this one, and the fact that I was able to dive into a story that speaks to my book-loving soul was the most marvelous reading experience I've had in a long time.


If you're anything like me and relish the possibility that magic exists right under our noses, I think you will love this book.

 

Witchy Fun


I watch the movie Practical Magic every single year ---- it is my all time favorite one-off witchy film. It wasn't until a few years ago that I decided to dive into the literature the movie is based off of --- and I started with the prequel.


The Rules of Magic focuses on the Owens aunts who appear in the Practical Magic film, Jet and Franny (weirdly, their names are actually never said in the movie). It is set in NYC in the 1960s, and follows the sisters, as well as heir brother Vincent, as they all try to navigate their witchy powers, angsty adolescence, and young adulthood ---- all while avoiding a curse that kills the people they fall in love with.


Alice Hoffman is a queen of witchy magical realism --- I've always loved a story that is set in the real world but magic happens to exist right under our noses (it's why I love Harry Potter so much). The added addition of family dynamics in most of her books helps ground it even further in reality ---- there's always so much to connect with, from Franny's boldness to Jet's strength, and their pain and happiness feel tangible and relatable.


Honestly, any of Hoffman's books would be a wonderful autumnal read, especially one that exists in the Owens family world.

 

This book might be a bit out of the ordinary for a spooky book post ---- it's about the infamous witch Circe, who, in Greek mythology, took Odysseus as her lover and turned his men into pigs. Maybe it doesn't give off the typical spooky witch vibes, but the feminine power in this book is majestic.


I find it fascinating when authors take well-known stories or myths and write from a different character's perspective. Especially for older stories that tend to squash the women characters into very tight and often misogynistic boxes, it's a delight to see those women fleshed out more. Circe goes deep into the background of this witch, from the moment she's born to when she's banished to an island, and her pain and hurt (mostly caused by men) along the way. I felt such excitement when she began embracing her powers, but she always held onto her humanity and empathy, despite the many heartbreaks she goes through.


Rooting for a character that was previously misunderstood gives this tale much more depth than when I read The Odyssey in high school --- and the fact that it is a feminine witch makes it all the more fun.

 

I had to throw one witchy romance book in this post. I haven't read many but This Kiss Curse was definitely gave the best Halloween-vibes, and the least cringey.


Technically, this book is the sequel to The Ex Hex but I didn't enjoy that one as much. The Kiss Curse follows Gwyn Jones, a witch who lives in a small Georgia town, where she owns a witchcraft shop (that everyone believes to be just for fun), and also takes a few younger witches from the local college under her wing. As Halloween approaches, an man named Wells opens up his own shop across the street, sparking a rivalry between the two magical beings that is fun and filled with banter.


I'm always down for a cute romance as long as it's not painfully cute --- this one hits that balance well. It made me want to cast my own spells with candles burning and perhaps a glass of red wine on a stormy autumn night.

 

Creepy Vibes


What a deliciously creepy, spooky, and atmospheric classic. I'm actually surprised I haven't yet written about this book on my website. I read this novel when I first moved to NYC in the fall of 2016. I had just graduated college and was working at a restaurant in Rockefeller Plaza, desperately trying to figure out how to be an adult. I specifically remember sneaking in a few pages while on a break in the back of the restaurant because I was that intrigued.


A man sells his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth and beauty, but the unexpected consequences slowly destroy his sanity. The vibes of this book are immaculate ---- such a slow descent into madness marked by feelings of eeriness and confusion. Oscar Wilde elegantly investigated what it means to be human, why beauty is often overrated, and how our limited time in this world makes it all the more precious.


In a time where it feels like many people on the internet are doing whatever they can to stay young and beautiful, this story reveals the ugly truth behind that obsession.

 

I remember seeing this book all over bookstagram when it was first published in 2020. I feel like the name is an accurate description of its vibe --- a story set in Mexico in the 1950s about a gothic haunted house. It's sometimes labeled as 'horror' but I don't think that would be the proper description. The atmosphere feels uneasy, creepy, mysterious ---- I didn't have nightmares after reading this book but it kept me on the edge of my seat.


Noemi is a beautiful socialite who becomes concerned when her cousin writes to her claiming her new husband and his family is trying to kill her. Noemi goes to the estate to investigate these claims and attempt to take her cousin away from the off-putting Doyle family.


The story is certainly more of a slow burn, which I actually preferred. It helped build tension and confusion before secrets are revealed in the latter half of the book, and the plot suddenly starts racing towards the finish line. It was an engrossing, entertaining, and suspenseful read that would be perfect for the month of October.

 

Ah, Cormac McCarthy. He is truly one of the greatest of all time. His words cut through your soul, his stories are devastating, yet there is somehow inexplicable beauty in all of his novels. I read The Road during the fall of my senior year of high school, and I will never forget the heart-wrenching ending that stayed heavy on my soul for weeks after I finished it. Okay, maybe I shouldn't be putting all of this in the beginning of the review and I don't want to scare you off, but I have to warn you, this novel is not for the faint of heart (none of McCarthy's works are). But the journey is so eloquent, so moving, so provoking, it's worth it.


The Road is a post-apocalyptic novel about a man and his son as they journey across the barren land towards the coast in hopes of finding any remnants of human civilization. I've read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction over the years, but no story has ever hit me the way this one did. It's simple in its premise and delivery, yet this somehow heightens the emotion and intensity. There's something about post-apocalyptic fiction that screams fall to me. The man and his son have to brave the elements in order to survive, creating a suspenseful atmosphere that makes me feel grateful to have a warm home.


I remember turning the pages anxiously, sneaking reads in during my shift at the Durham restaurant Parizade, and finally finishing the entire novel in my car before I left work. I sat in my car for probably twenty minutes after I finished, attempting to process as tears streamed down my face. And that memory has never left me, that feeling has remained, and I have no doubt it would do the same to any reader who picks it up.

 

Don't forget, you can shoot me a message through the 'Personalized Recs' page if you want more recommendations. Tell me some of your reading goals, favorite books, or what you want to read more of and I'll send you some recommendations I think you'll love.


Happy reading, y'all.

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