Halloween is just one day away, which means late fall is here in earnest. As it gets darker and colder outside, it’s the perfect time to get yourself a hot drink, wrap yourself up in a blanket, and read something spooky. Whether you’re into witches (literal or metaphorical), zombies, dystopia, horror (real or made-up), fantasy, or just some weird stories, here’s a list of nine new releases—all of them by women and/or queer folks—that couldn’t be more suited for this time of year.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado is no stranger to, well, almost any reader—her debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was a huge hit in 2017 (and, incidentally, also makes for a great Halloween-y read). In the Dream House, however, is a different animal. This is a memoir, mainly centering around Machado’s experience with an abusive same-gender partner, but to leave the description at that does the book a disservice. In addition to the important work of shining a light on the existence of domestic abuse in queer relationships, this book is unlike anything you’ve ever read. The chapters are short, sometimes only a paragraph, and take as their basis some kind of storytelling archetype or taboo, mainly from Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk-Literature. This approach frames and re-frames and re-frames again the deeply troubling reality—and often surreality—of the abusive relationship the narrator finds herself in. It’s an intellectual structure, but In the Dream House also reads like pure poetry, with sentences so beautiful they may cause you a deeper stomach ache than that leftover Halloween candy (and are a whole lot more satisfying).
The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West
It’s finally here! Lindy West’s long-awaited follow-up to her bestselling 2016 essay collection Shrill (which was adapted for TV by Hulu this year) lands in stores on November 5. The Witches Are Coming is a little less light-hearted than Shrill, and a little more earnest, which is arguably exactly what’s called for from a feminist essay collection in the age of Trump. There’s still a whole lot of laugh-out-loud humor here, along with some solemnity. West takes Trump’s obsession with victimizing himself by using the phrase “witch hunt” and runs with it, returning again and again to the many meanings of the word witch: powerful, threatening, unlikeable womxn; conjurers of magic; truth-tellers; fearless pursuers of justice. From Facebook to Goop, cancel culture to climate change, the essays here add West’s discerning and quick-witted voice to the conversation about what social and environmental justice looks like, and what it can look like in the future. So if you need a little magic in your Halloween reading, pick this one up.
Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie
If you’re into unsettling stories on a dark November night, look no further than Nigerian-British writer Irenosen Okojie’s newest short story collection, Nudibranch. Okojie is a multiple award winning author, and her latest collection is perfect for those of us who love a weird, moody story that settles in the body and doesn’t move on quickly. Reminiscent of Helen Oyeyemi’s What is Not Yours is Not Yours, with characters ranging from sea goddesses and a time-traveling homeless man to monks that skip between dimensions and appropriately creepy children of the future, these stories are as tightly woven as that blanket you find yourself under while reading. You’ll need a flashlight with long battery life, because the prose is so fierce and melodic that you’ll be up all night.
Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton
(Grand Central, out now)
Let’s be real. Halloween is about zombies. But have you ever read a zombie story featuring a pet crow, a pampered cat, a goofy dog, and an entire network of city animals, only some of whom are trying to save humanity? Kira Jane Buxton’s debut novel, set under the moody gray skies of Seattle, is truly unique. She embodies the voices of the animal narrators so effectively that even this non-animal-lover was swept up in the prose. Not only that, but these characters are so weird! This is a one-of-a-kind read that’s perfect for someone looking for the kind of horror that’s accessible, gripping at the same time that it’s hilarious, rich in detail and setting, and so strange that you have no idea where you’re going. In other words, an ideal read for a rainy fall night.
Initiated: Memoir of a Witch by Amanda Yates Garcia
(Grand Central, out now)
This memoir from the Oracle of Los Angeles, Amanda Yates Garcia, is a great choice for the aspiring witches out there, especially the queer ones, who are all about social justice and forging one’s own path. The stories Garcia recounts in these pages could fill several lifetimes; from California to Amsterdam, Paris to London, Garcia guides the reader through several tumultuous periods of her life to arrive at her current state as a celebrated witch. But you don’t have to be a witch, or even interested in witchcraft, to get carried away by Garcia’s prose and the surprising turns her life path takes. You just have to be along for the beautifully-written ride (broomsticks not necessarily encouraged).
The In-Betweens by Mira Ptacin
(Liveright, out now)
Up in the woods of northern Maine lies one of the last outposts of what used to be an incredibly popular national spiritual movement: namely, that of Spiritualism. It’s called Camp Etna, and it is populated with what’s left of the mediums, psychics, and general Spiritualist enthusiasts that used to be so numerous. Ptacin lays out a detailed and intriguing story about the history of Spiritualism and its place in the American consciousness. But she also documents personal accounts of the time she spent visiting the camp, interviewing its residents, taking classes in ghost hunting and dowsing, and questioning her own assumptions. It’s a fascinating read, and perfect for a little nonfiction exploration of an almost-forgotten place and the witchy folks who still live there.
Astro Poets by Alex Dimitrov and Dorothea Lasky
(Flatiron, out now)
What’s witchier than astrology? Poets Alex Dimitrov and Dorothea Laskey are the duo behind the wildly popular Twitter account AstroPoets, which dispenses poetic horoscope snippets and a good dose of funny GIFs. In AstroPoets: Your Guides to the Zodiac, Dimitrov and Lasky have crafted a guide to the signs that will be adored by their followers and probably make them quite a few new ones. The book brings the reader into a world in which poetry, astrology, and humor happily mingle. Whether you’re an astrology die-hard or you don’t really care one way or another (hi, fellow Geminis), this book emphasizes personal agency rather than fate, and it’s extremely accessible regardless of your astrological knowledge. But the real reason it shines is because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it will absolutely make you laugh.
The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith
(Ace, out now)
If a queer book nerd’s fantasy is what you’re after on All Hallows Eve, Library of the Unwritten is for you. In a part of hell where all of the world’s unfinished stories end up, Claire is the head librarian. Along with her assistant (and muse), the wonderfully-named Brevity, she catalogues the forgotten and the left-behind. But the other part of her job is to keep an eye on these stories, because they sometimes escape in search of their authors. When a hero of one story slips away, Claire and Brevity try to track him down. Unfortunately for them, things go awry, leading to many (mis)adventures and to the brink of war between heaven and hell. Wild, right? This is a multi-layered story, like any good fantasy, and involves a fascinating cast of characters that at once embody and defy archetypes. It’s also the third book by a Seattle author to appear on this list (along with Lindy West and Kira Jane Buxton), so there must be something about the mood in that rainy city that makes for great fall reads. The Library of the Unwritten is the first book of a series, so when you’re done with this page-turner, you’ll have to fill your time with pumpkin pie or something while you’re waiting for the next one. But it’ll be worth it.
Pigs by Johanna Stoberock
(Red Hen Press, out now)
This novel centers on a group of kids who live on an island with some pretty terrible adults and a bunch of monster-pigs. What’s spookier than that? The island serves as a repository for the planet’s trash, which the kids feed to the pigs. When one day a barrel washes up on shore with a sleeping boy inside, the plot takes off in a whirlwind. In luminous prose, Stoberock has crafted a parable for our time, one in which the environment, community, and human empathy are central to understanding our world. It’s dark and creepy, but beyond the mud-caked veneer, the book shines like a verdant island of its own.