Happy autumn! Where are my fall-lovers at? I adore this season unapologetically. I have my maple vanilla candles burning around me, sipping on chai tea as I listen to dark Celtic music perfect for autumn (and if you’ve never listened to Loreena McKennitt’s The Visit, I invite you to now. It’s all I listen to from now until All Saints Day!)
There’s something magical about this time of the year, and it’s not just the spooky Halloween factor, although that amps it up to the next degree. The intoxicating feeling of change in the air always makes my head spin. It’s a time for sweaters and tea and fires; when above all, we seek out comfort.
So why not seek comfort in your reading, as well? There is a huge amount of books that I can only describe as cozy-spooky, generally set around this time of year. Witches and monsters are typically involved, but they’re not necessarily scary. More than horror, they capture this essence of autumn that gets us all punch-drunk on pumpkin spice. Here are some of my suggestions for books to curl up in front of the fire and soak in the abundance of the season.
Hocus Pocus & the All-New Sequel
I will admit it: I adore Hocus Pocus and rewatch it every year during October. Nothing says Halloween more to me than this movie. It basically set my Halloween aesthetic expectations forever. Every Halloween should actually be Salem from this movie.
I mean, there are problems here. I have a lot of issues about witches being evil women living without men (gasp!) who eat the souls of children. I just … don’t think that movie would be remade at this time.
And the good news is … it won’t be, but a sequel to the book was released along with a novelization of the movie in 2018, for the 25th anniversary of the cult classic.
I enjoyed reading the novelization, which surprised me because normally I don’t. But the author added new details, about what the characters were thinking, which allowed the relationships between characters to deepen. There were some added scenes that explained why Allison ends up falling for breast-obsessed Max, and the Sanderson sisters become more complicated this way.
I liked the added parts of the novelization that allowed for the sequel. For one, it helps to go against my major issue with the movie: that all witches are evil. Because, of course, they aren’t.
As for the new sequel, I liked it. I liked the diverse cast, I liked the new use of modern toys, and I liked the new characters. I thought it was charming. If you love Hocus Pocus, you may love to return to Salem for another round with the bewitching Sanderson sisters.
The Unofficial Hocus Pocus Cross-Stitch
And for bonus points extra coziness, check out the quite honestly sweetest book of cross stitching I’ve ever seen. Nothing says cozy-spooky like a cross stitch of the Sanderson sisters! It’s all a bunch of Hocus Pocus!
The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater
With an incredibly atmospheric setting and looming dread that settles throughout the book, The Scorpio Races is a fun, suspenseful read. Main characters Puck and Sean are easy to root for, and you want their story to work out, despite all the odds.
Thisby is an island where mythical monstrous water horses emerge from the sea to eat pets, people, and whatever their teeth should land on. So of course there is a culture of capturing and racing these monsters, culminating in the November First races, which are the backbone of the entire economy of this tiny island.
It seems as though many children on the island are orphans, as all the parents end up eaten by monsters. Puck curses how many people leave the island year after year, although it seems right logical to me. Puck is attached to the island in a way she can’t understand, even though both her parents were killed. In a desperate attempt to save her house from being repossessed and to keep her family together, she enters into the races, the first woman to have ever done so.
Sean Kendrick is known as a man with one foot on land, the other in the sea, and is essentially the horse monster whisperer. (The horse monsters are actually called capall uisce (CAP*ple ISH*ka).) He is riding for his freedom. As both Sean and Puck are drawn ever closer to the inevitable climax of the races, they find themselves drawn to each other as well.
There are many things that made this book so enjoyable to me. I loved the island of Thisby, with its close villager life and a cast of kooky characters to support Puck and Sean (or be their mortal enemies). I’m not sure what it is about books set in small seaside villages, but I am a complete sucker for them, and should clearly move to the sea despite having lived every single one of my years completely landlocked. In this way, Stiefvater created such an atmospheric place, threaded through with the unease and wildness.
I adored the atmosphere, set in October, as winter starts to cut through the wind and things get chilly. It makes me want to make myself some spice cakes like the ones they go on about in the book. A book made for autumn!
The Witches of New York, by Ami McKay
I can’t write a spooky-cozy book list without including The Witches of New York, one of my favourite witchy books of all time. This is a beautiful tale of witches, womanhood and everyday magic. Adelaide Thom, along with her business and witchy partner Eleanor St. Clair, meet young Beatrice Dunn and the planets align. The tea shop they own together is mysterious and enchanting, where fortunes are told, stories are shared, and philosophy is discussed, all over a cup of healing tea. Tea & Sympathy might actually be my most idyllic place, whether or not it is fictional.
At the heart of it, The Witches of New York is about female empowerment. Underneath all the plot twists is a dark and twisted patriarchy that seeks power and control over women and repudiates all they do not understand. Not that there aren’t male characters who are kind and sympathetic – and not all of them are alive. McKay does an excellent job of creating characters who are flawed yet still understandable, so very real even in the midst of a ghost story.
I read this book and immediately felt like Ami McKay and I might be friends – she has put such heart into these pages. This is certainly a great spooky read but there is depth and soul here that I truly loved.
The Ex Hex, by Erin Sterling
Another perfect read for spooky season. I thought it was cute and sexy, and enjoyed the atmosphere of the adorable town, Graves Glen. I know I’m not alone in this, but I’ve always wanted to live in a perfect seasonal town, where every townsperson celebrates every festival and makes the absolute most of everything. I mean, Graves Glen is Stars Hollow, only witchier.
Vivienne Jones is a witch, albeit a not very powerful one, and only cast one curse in her life, while weeping over a bottle of vodka at her stupid ex. The curse didn’t take, or did it? When her ex finally returns to the town nine years later, things begin to go curiously wrong for him, and Vivienne finds she must protect Rhys Penhallow from all she cursed him with. Only, because he’s the ancestor of the magical founder of the town, there’s more at stake than their renewed feelings for each other.
Cute cute cute, excellent read when you just want to feel good and a little bit magical. The best description I’ve read of this book: Hocus Pocus but they bang. Read in the fall!
Hallowe’en Party, by Agatha Christie
I haven’t read anything by Agatha Christie in a hot minute, but she’s getting quite a popularity kick at the moment, isn’t she? I’ve always loved the style of her quiet, intelligent detectives, which always begs the question: are you for Poirot or Marple? I suspect I would end up on the Marple’s side in the end, because I feel like I could maybe aspire to be her someday. Let me just grab my knitting and unravel this mystery …
But for Hallowe’en Party, it is Poirot who is called in to solve the grisly murder, that of a 13-year-old who had, earlier in the night, at a Halloween party, told anyone who would listen that she had witnessed a murder. When her body is found drowned in a tub of apples, the real question becomes: was she murdered to cover up an older murder?
I adore the style of Christie’s books, and this one did not disappoint. Perfect for fans of a Halloween vibe without too much gore or spookiness, as well as Christie’s trademark whodunnit, Hallowe’en Party will get you in the mood for Hallowe’en like nothing else.
The League of Gentlewomen Witches, by India Holton
Adorable and witchy, the second book in the Dangerous Damsels series, the first being The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels.
In this, the League of Gentlewomen Witches are very decidedly ladies, and their panties might actually always be in a twist. They use their magic to tidy and correct and to be all kinds of proper. Charlotte, the future leader of the league, is powerful and obsessed with Jane Austen, and the last thing she wants is to be forced into close proximity with very untidy pirate captain Alex O’Riley, in order to retrieve a powerful talisman. Charlotte might be a proper lady but even she is not immune to the pirate’s charms.
This has been described as what would happen if Pride and Prejudice had a baby with Pirates of the Caribbean. How can you not be tempted by that? It’s not necessarily spooky cozy, but it is cute and it does involve witches + pirates, and I’m not sure what’s more Halloween than that!
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving
This story has such a cultural impact, I was surprised as to how short and funny The Legend of Sleepy Hollow actually was. This story has directly led to my belief that all covered bridges are haunted, and that New England might be the spookiest place on the planet.
Is it the Disney effect? My first introduction to Irving’s story is the Disney short, where Ichabod Crane is a hapless yet not unsympathetic stork-man, just trying to make his way home after a party. And when I watched this as a youngster I genuinely found it frightening. So while reading this I expected to be frightened a little bit – but in fact, I laughed out loud. There was no murderous Hessian but really just a twerp getting what he deserved – a good scare.
For me, the absolute funniest part of the story is that I got the sense that Irving wrote Sleepy Hollow when he was very very hungry. The descriptions of food were legendary, and goes on for pages! There is an entire page just dedicated to cakes! I kind of love this. Don’t read while hungry.
Really, the reason why the story is ridiculous and not pathetic is because the reader believes Ichabod gets what he deserves. The plot revolves around the suit of Miss Katrina Van Tassel, a very pretty, very wealthy heiress, whose father’s estate is vast and ample. Crane decides to throw his impoverished hat into the ring and Katrina’s most powerful suitor takes offence. But as a reader, you don’t really feel sorry for Crane, because at the heart of it he is a pig. He just wants and wants. Katrina is pretty, yes, but mainly he wants her estate and dreams of her working to cook up all kinds of glorious foods for him.
Crane grossed me out, greedy glutton that he is, especially because he didn’t have anything to offer in exchange for all of this treasure, other than his own pretension. And listen, while a pretty girl with a fortune might question if she is ever wanted just for herself, at least you get the sense that Brom Bones knows how to take care of a girl proper, you know?
Brom Bones is the other suitor vying for Katrina’s hand in marriage, and I will admit to having a crush on him. He is 100% the inspiration for Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, right? I know I’m not wrong about this, he was Gaston, I’m sure of it. I love Gaston so much and got a kick out of the incredible post by Dana Schwartz Why Belle Should Have Chosen Gaston. It is a must-read. Hahaha, the Beast is a lazy trust-funder, bourgeois pig. Seriously, this made my life.
Back to Sleepy Hollow. Just like Gaston, Brom Bones is a catch and the rightful winner of Katrina’s hand. He might just want her estate too, maybe he is also kind of a pig, but guess what? There’s food on the table. These are important details in the 18th century. Everything about the conclusion made me happy.
What are your favourite parts of the season? Any favourite Halloween/autumnal books you love this time of year? Let me know in the comments what you want to be reading now!