Happy autumnal equinox, my friends! This—this darkening, cooling-off, hunkering-down season—is my favorite time of the year, not least because my favorite holiday is just around the corner. I don’t know about y’all but I am very ready to say goodbye to summer this year and move into this season of transitions and spooks and baked apple desserts and pumpkin-flavored everything. And what better way to get in the spirit of things than with a reading list?? Below are the murder mystery, thriller, magic, and/or ghost stories that I’ve loved to get you in the spooky spirit!
The Wife Upstairs by by Rachel Hawkins (★★★★☆)
A modern interpretation of the semi-Gothic romance, Jane Eyre. Betrayal, murder, sex, arson, potential bigamy: what more could you ask for?
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (★★★★☆)
More murder, sex, and betrayal, but with a hefty helping of an unreliable alcoholic narrator who must sift through her tangled half-memories of the night she might have seen her ex-husband with a missing woman.
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder (★★★★★)
One of the best books I’ve read in the last two years. A woman worn down by the trials of motherhood starts to turn into a dog.
Fen by Daisy Johnson (★★★★★)
Strange things are happening—transformations, un-deaths, disappearances—in the fen, a strange and spooky setting in itself. Short stories by one of my favorite modern authors.
The Maid by Nita Prose (★★★★☆)
If cozy murder mysteries are your thing, this one is just the ticket: lots of intrigue, a fun twist, plus a charming and lovable cast of characters to remind you that not all humans are bad.
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris (★★★★☆)
I read this book in a weekend because I couldn’t put it down. A woman seeks escape from the world’s scariest husband who, every time you think he can’t get creepier, proves you wrong. Tense until the last moment.
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (★★★★★)
Of course we have to have an appearance by the queen of cozy murder herself! Agatha always delivers a good time with a tidy ending and this book is no exception.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (★★★★☆)
A modern Gothic novel with magical realism, ghosts, and the evils of colonialism. You’ll never look at mushrooms the same way again.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (★★★☆☆)
The first in a three-book series, and not my favorite V.E. Schwab (scroll down for that one), but still a fun fantasy adventure of an 18th-century London girl swept up in a battle to keep dark magic from sweeping over not just her world, but every world.
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh (★★★★★)
This book scared the pants off me. Be sure to check the trigger warnings before you read it, but it will grip you from the first page.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (★★★★★)
Sure, it’s technically a children’s book, but it’s a fantastic and very quick read. In Gaiman’s own words, it’s the only book he’s written that children experience as an adventure, but gives adults nightmares.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (★★★★☆)
This book is the definition of a slow burn, but you can cut the tension with a knife all the way through.
The Sentence by Louis Erdrich (★★★★☆)
A modern (as in, early COVID days) ghost story: an Indigenous woman who works in a bookstore is haunted at work by the ghost of a white woman with whom she had a tense relationship in life.
Beloved by Toni Morrison (★★★★☆)
A more poignant, but no less terrifying, kind of haunting. Magical realism, suspense, and past trauma rearing its ugly head, poured out in the most beautiful and poetic prose that only Morrison could craft.
Dracula by Bram Stoker (★★★☆☆)
The OG spooky season novel. It’s pretty long, and to be frank I wasn’t expecting to be impressed when I started it, and the reverse-colonialism anxiety is *giant sigh*…but it turned out to be a fairly enjoyable read.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (★★★★☆)
No spooks except the ones we face in real life in America.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (★★★★★)
If you scrolled down looking for my favorite Schwab, you’ve found it! The curse of an ancient god, a ghost who isn’t a ghost, and a doomed love story. If you want magical realism with a happy-ish ending, this is the book for you.
Sisters by Daisy Johnson (★★★★★)
Hauntings come in many forms. Just because it’s in your head doesn’t mean that nothing happened.
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore (★★★★☆)
I know, this is nonfiction, but there’s nothing spookier than reality, is there? This book carefully traces the living nightmare of the women who suffered radium poisoning at work, then decades of gaslighting by doctors who knew the dangers but were in the pocket of the radium companies, and whose struggle ultimately changed the face of American labor and workers’ compensation laws.
And one to grow on…
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
This is my first Stephen Graham Jones book! I’m only a quarter of the way through right now, but so far I’m totally hooked. Four Blackfeet men are haunted (possibly quite literally, stay tuned!) by events that took place on a hunt a decade earlier.