Now that it's October, we've pulled out our wool sweaters, planned pumpkin patch excursions—and, of course, dug into our favorite fall books.
But what makes a great autumnal read, you ask? In our opinion, it's something atmospheric—whether that's dark and Gothic or warm and cozy. It may also have a dose of magic and whimsy, from legitimate spell-casting witches to delightful turns of phrases.
The following novels cover all these bases (and more). Ready a cup of cocoa, wrap yourself in a cozy blanket, and dive into these perfect fall books.
Alice Hoffman’s books always shimmer with just a hint of magic, and there’s something about Seventh Heaven that exudes whimsical, autumnal coziness. It’s 1959, and newcomer Nora Silk wears her divorce like a scarlet ‘D.’ Not only that, but her high-heeled shoes and lax parenting style have further cemented her as the odd-ball of Hemlock Street. There’s even a rumor that she’s—gasp—a witch. But then, out of the blue, her neighbors’ scorn starts to change— transforming into an admiration that inspires them to reassess their own lifestyles and choices. As one decade ends and a more turbulent one begins, it becomes clear that Nora’s gifts aren't mired in the occult, but in her willingness to be her true self.
In 1972, an acid folk band sets up camp in an abandoned mansion, hoping the isolation will keep them focused on their second record. But there are plenty of creepy distractions in Wylding Hall—especially when their guitarist vanishes without a trace. Fast forward to the present, where an aspiring documentarian is making a film about the band, their notorious album, and their missing bandmate. Each member of Windhollow Faire has a different account of their stay at the crumbling estate—but which one is the truth, and can the movie help solve the years-old mystery? The winner of a 2015 Shirley Jackson Award, Wylding Hall is a one-of-a-kind Gothic horror story perfect for a gloomy October afternoon.
Once a retreat for exhausted Hollywood stars, Coden, Alabama is now a backwater town with little excitement. That is, until the Henderson family moves into the Belle Fleur estate...When they hire 21-year-old Mimi as a live-in tutor for their three children, she’s over the moon—so much so that she doesn’t even mind when they give her an additional student. But orphan Annie isn't like the other kids, and strange happenings seem to follow her everywhere: There are eerie bumps in the night, birds keep falling to their deaths, and a ghost-girl now lurks in the garden. The disappearance of the eldest Henderson sibling convinces Mimi that these aren’t isolated incidents, but possibly the work of the 16-year-old girl she teaches every day...
Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Green Gables might not be the most obvious choice for a fall book, but we take it off our shelves whenever the temperature starts to cool. After all, it was the spunky Anne Shirley who once said, “I’m so glad I live in a world of Octobers” (aren’t we all?). Once you finish reading about Anne’s first adventures in Avonlea, you can follow her through high school, first love, marriage, motherhood—multiple books that’ll keep you occupied all season long.
Don't Look Now
Daphne Du Maurier is another writer whose atmospheric, supernatural-flavored work just screams “fall.” This collection is a sample of some of her spookier tales—including her most famous, “The Birds.” But there are other standouts as well, like “Blue Lenses,” in which a blind woman’s eyesight-restoring contacts play terrifying tricks on her vision. The titular story, “Don’t Look Now,” is another haunting entry: On their Venice vacation, a married couple meets two clairvoyants, who claim to be able to see their dead daughter. The encounter changes the entire course of their trip, as the wife presses the psychics for more information and the husband slowly loses his grip on reality.
This fall book is also a little-known gem, an early feminist classic, and the very first Book of the Month club selection. Ever since her father’s death, spinster Laura “Lolly” Willowes has lived with her extended family under the same roof. Feeling suffocated by her siblings, the city, and her “women’s duties,” she leaves London in search of freedom in the Chiltern Hills. It’s there that Lolly truly comes into her own, befriending the local villagers, practicing magic, and even adopting a stray cat as her familiar. Her journey to independence makes for a comforting, whimsical tale that also celebrates the “witch” in every woman.
Related: 5 Empowering, Witchy Reads
The Distant Hours
Intrigued by a 50-year-old letter, book editor Edie Burchill goes to the crumbling castle where her mother lived as a teenager during the London Blitz. The other occupants, the three Blythe sisters, are still there—though they’ve changed considerably in the decades since the war. Edie is naturally bursting with questions: Why have the sisters locked themselves away for so long? Is their reclusiveness somehow connected to their father, a world-famous storybook writer? And what secrets has Edie’s mother kept hidden? To find answers, Edie starts digging into Milderhurst’s colorful history, uncovering a web of heartbreak, death, and longing that changes everything she knows…What better place to spend a fall day than in an old English castle?
After over one century on Earth, it seems that Daniel Gluck’s time has come. While he lies comatose in his hospital bed, the much-younger Elizabeth Demand looks on. Back in the 1980s, the pair formed an unusual friendship—Elizabeth was just eight years old; Daniel, age 80—and it has had a profound effect on the way they see the world. Elizabeth’s nostalgic reflections take readers to the past, where she and Daniel have thoughtful conversations about life and art. But much of the story also takes place in fall 2017, perfectly capturing the anger, hopelessness, and anxiety of our post-Brexit society. Give yourself over to Ali Smith’s playful use of language, as she spins an “unbearably moving” tale about love, joy, and wonder in difficult times (The Boston Globe).
In 1950, BBC employee Juliet Armstrong has a weird encounter with an ex-colleague. Many moons ago, an 18-year-old Juliet was stuck doing secretarial work—until the MI5 made her one of their own. While Nazi sympathizers met in a wiretapped London flat, she secretly transcribed their discussions from the other side of the wall. At first, things seemed to go smoothly—she developed a crush on her supervisor; she got used to the crappy quality of the recordings—until her increasing responsibilities landed her in a web of trouble. But spotting an old spy friend is just the start of several blasts from Juliet's past, which leaves her wondering if her brief espionage career has come back to bite her...Clever, suspenseful, and filled with Atkinson’s sardonic wit, Transcription has a cozy Britishness that feels very autumn-appropriate.
Featured photo: Alisa Anton / Unsplash