In this list we’ve got a house haunted by its fear of the other; a biography of the women persecuted in the Salem Witch Trials; a haunted hotel straight from The Shining with a bunch of nerd musicians roaming its corridors; the beginning of a YA series about a Victorian boy who hears the plaintive cries of everyday objects; and a few delicious and twisted takes on detective and crime novels. This should keep you busy as you stare into the depths of your cauldrons.
If you’re looking for something to fulfill your more realist tendencies, try part one of this list.
White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (Penguin Riverhead, 2014)
You might have heard about Helen Oyeyemi’s most recent novel, Boy Snow Bird, last fall. Billed as Snow White set in a mid-century American South, the novel didn’t exactly match its publicity blitz, which made some readers unhappy and left others just plain confused (if you already like Oyeyemi and want to feel sad, just take a look at the book’s Goodreads reviews). This misconception might be because Helen Oyeyemi books are never actually about something so specific, even if she cites a direct influence like a particular fairy or folk tale. Oyeyemi comes at her subjects sideways, like a crab, using genre and form to unpack big ideas about race, gender, family, immigration, storytelling–you name it.
White is for Witching is Oyeyemi’s third novel, and last year Penguin Riverhead re-issued the book in paperback. Set in Dover, England, a port city where many illegal immigrants make their home, the novel weaves multiple points of view together in a chilling spin on the Gothic novel. There’s the house where the Silver family runs their bed & breakfast (yes, the house is a speaking entity); Miranda Silver, who suffers from an unusual eating disorder that may or may not be caused by the house’s ill intentions; and Miranda’s twin brother Eliot, who struggles with Miranda’s descent into illness and the recent death of their mother. This haunted house is racist and sexist and plain terrifying–and it gets entire chapters to itself, as it tells you what, exactly, it’s up to. (Or does it?)
At Night by Lisa Ciccarello (Black Ocean, 2015)
In her inscription for my copy of At Night, Lisa Ciccarello wrote: “Thank you so much for getting this! I hope it brings you the opposite of joy.” This seems as good an introduction to Ciccarello’s poetry as any. At Night lives somewhere on the border of witchcraft and folklore–there are our fears of calling on the dead, matched with our need to call them up: “The dead have different problems than everyone else–someone spills salt & they are blocked from the water; someone finds the bell & pulls the string. // At night I hear the string from far away. Stop listening.” Each line holds an obsessive ritual, and it is, at times, difficult to tell who needs whom more: does the speaker need the dead? Or the dead the speaker? Tread carefully, little ones. This book is a beautiful nightmare.
The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff (Little Brown, 2015)
There is not a book in my TBR pile that I want to get my hands on more badly than this one. (Except for Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night. I can’t even think about it because February is too far away.) You might recognize Stacy Schiff’s name from her excellent biography Cleopatra from a few years ago. Imagine that same critical eye turned on the Salem Witch Trials. Young women! Power! Fear! Intrigue! Men acting badly! Sign me up. It hits shelves on October 27.
The Selected Jenny Zhang by Jenny Zhang (Emily Books, 2015)
The Selected Jenny Zhang landed in my inbox a few weeks ago, thanks to the fine ladies of Emily Books, who have gathered Jenny Zhang’s work into an e-publication for the very first time. Collected here are two of Zhang’s chapbooks, Dear Jenny We Are All Find and HAGS, in addition to an essay, “How It Feels.” A few weeks ago, Zhang made me sit up and take notice with her beautiful and whip-smart essay on race and publishing, “They Pretend to Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist.” Publisher Ruth Curry felt drawn to Zhang’s work “Because she’s not afraid to be gross. You get the feeling that she loves being gross. She puts the grossness in service of something powerful.” There’s nothing I love more than a powerful, gross lady, so I’m excited to get to know Zhang’s work better. Thanks, Emily Books!
Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt (Open Letter, 2015)
I scooped this book up after listening to bookseller and all-around book fiend Liberty Hardy rave about it on one of my favorite podcasts, Book Riot’s All the Books! (It is about–you guessed it–books. Specifically new books that are coming out all the time. Specifically on Tuesday, which is weekly Christmas in the publishing world. WEEKLY CHRISTMAS, you guys. What joy.) A debut novel from Danish poet Aidt, Rock, Paper, Scissors begins when Thomas and his sister Jenny find a secret in the toaster of their dead mobster father (A TOASTER). This secret threatens to plunge Thomas into the same world of violence and danger that killed his father. Will Thomas succumb to his father’s legacy? Will the secret from the toaster ruin everything?! Pick up this book to find out.
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia (Mariner Books, 2015)
There was one book last year that I wanted everyone to read–kind of like how, right now, I want everyone to drop everything, listen to Hamilton, and talk with me about it. (Everyone.) At any rate, that book was Kate Racculia’s Bellweather Rhapsody. I can’t tell you what I loved more: that the book starts with a murder in a hotel that practically screams The Shining? That the Bellweather Hotel then plays host to a high school music festival that sent pangs of nostalgia right to my wobbly, band-nerd heart? That one of the main story-lines follows sweet, shy Rabbit, a young bassoonist who’s struggling with coming out to his sister, the Broadway wannabe Alice? That we both get to enjoy the music festival of teenage anguish and solve a mysterious, decades-old crime?! Please, don’t make me pick.
The Bloody Chamber: 75th Anniversary Edition by Angela Carter with a new introduction by Kelly Link (Penguin Books, 2015)
This re-issue of Angela Carter’s most famous collection of stories comes with a delightful essay and introduction from Kelly Link (author of the collections Get in Trouble and Magic for Beginners). Based in fairy tales and folklore, Carter’s stories are funny and bold and unafraid of women who want things (or other people). In her essay, Link writes “Carter took the stories that she loved and with that love she made new stories out of them…I was struck, too, by the conversational tone of her narrators… I see you, Carter always seems to be saying, even as the story itself continues to move forward. Do you see me?” Here be vampires and women with guns and tigers and lions and wolves. Yes, please.
Heap House by Edward Carey (The Overlook Press, 2013)
Each member of the Iremonger clan of Heap House receives a Birth Object–this is usually an everyday object like an inkwell, or the door handle that goes missing at the beginning of young Clod Iremonger’s story. Poor Clod. Not only is his name synonymous with dirt and clumsiness (the twin banes of the Victorian era), but he also has to suffer through the mysterious whisperings uttered by his family’s many objects. On the outset, whispering objects may seem completely normal in a world as weird as that of Heap House–however, Clod’s the only one who can hear the objects speaking. Soon enough, Clod teams up with Lucy Pennant, an orphaned servant, to get to the bottom of his family’s many mysteries. This strange, captivating tale is written and illustrated by Edward Carey (Observatory Mansions), and–thank goodness–it’s the first in a trilogy.
The City & The City by China Miéville (Del Ray, 2009)
China Miéville’s take on the detective novel came out quite a while ago, but I find myself thinking about it every time fall rolls around. What you should know before you jump in: there is a murder to solve and there are two (possibly three) cities that exist in the same location in space and time, each glimmering in and out of existence for their inhabitants. This book is gritty and political and great. Miéville fans probably know that he just came out with a new story collection, Three Moments of an Explosion, which is getting rave reviews just about everywhere. And once you fall down the Miéville rabbit hole–well, you have very far to fall indeed.
This list is pretty long, but it could have been infinity times longer. If you’ve read some of the above selections already, or are just looking for more books in this vein, here are some more titles you could go for:
The Color Master by Aimee Bender
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns
An Exaggerated Murder by Josh Cook
Duplex by Kathryn Davis (or Hell by Kathryn Davis or, hell: most things by Kathryn Davis)
Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt
The Wilds by Julia Elliott
Lev Grossman’s Magician trilogy
The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits
The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour
Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link (or anything by Kelly Link)
The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai
Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld