Autumnal Book Guide: 16 Best Fall 2019 Reads
Our book section contributors list up the books we're most looking forward to this fall season — from the spooky to the cozy.
There’s never a bad season of the year for reading. Whether it’s winter, summer, spring, or fall, there’s a reading habit that goes oh-so-well with the season. But there’s something about fall—when the leaves are changing (at least in some parts of the world) and the nights are getting longer—that makes me want to curl up with the coziest of books or the most deliciously creepy short story we can find (for the latter, might we recommend “Cavity” by Theresa DeLucci?).
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Den of Geek’s book contributors are no different! I’ve reached out to all of them to find out which most autumnal of books they’re looking forward to reading this fall season. Here are all of our selections…
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
July 23rd, Del Rey
What happens when you release the god of the underworld? Since Casiopea Tun didn’t know that’s what would happen when she opened her domineering grandfather’s mysterious Mayan chest, she’s not prepared for a skeleton to put itself back together, become a man, and demand that she accompany him to retrieve the parts of his body stolen by his no-good brother. But Casiopea is used to dealing with bossy, entitled men, which means that Hun-Kame, ruler of Xibalba, may not realize what he’s gotten himself into.
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I’ve been waiting for a chance to get this one off my TBR pile since it came out this summer, and with Halloween (and Dia de los Muertos) on the horizon, stories about finding chests full of bones and navigating the land of the dead are the perfect type of creepy to get the season off to a good start. Even better, it’s set in Jazz-Age Mexico before it descends into the Mayan underworld, and I’m enjoying every minute of delving into this unfamiliar and darkly magical world from a well-known #OwnVoices SFF writer. I think you might, too…
– Alana Joli Abbott
Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories
August 20th, Saga Press
I mentioned short fiction in the opening—short stories can be the perfect, low-commitment way to wind down the day or spruce up any seasonal party. (Reading aloud isn’t just for kids in English class.) This anthology of 30 moder ghost stories from Saga Press was just published in August, and it includes contributions from some of the most interesting writers in speculative fiction right now, including Seanan McGuire and Paul Tremblay. Paired with more traditionally literary authors like Joyce Carol Oates and Alice Hoffman, there is something in this anthology for everyone who loves a spooky story.
The collection was edited by the always-great Ellen Datlow, who is known for her work in the genres of supernatural suspense and fantasy. It’s the broad genre reach of this anthology that most intrigued me, as horror has rarely been my go-to genre. However, in addition to contributors like Tremblay, who gets the collection going with “
Ice Cold Lemonade 25ȼ Haunted House Tour: 1 Per Person,” The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories features authors who are better known for their fantasy work, such as Garth Nix (who contributes “Mee-Ow,” to the collection). The result means that no two stories are alike, and that there is something in here for everyone. Don’t sleep on this anthology—it’s perfect for the fall season.
– Kayti Burt
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell & Faith Erin Hicks
August 27th, First Second
#FallReads can be creepy, but they can be cozy, too. (Extra autumnal credit, authors, if you manage to achieve both at once!) It’s definitely the cozy category that this graphic novel, from beloved YA novelist Rainbow Rowell and artist Faith Erin Hicks falls into.
Pumpkinheads is the coming-of-age story of best friends Deja and Josie, high school seniors who are finishing up their last ever night working at DeKnock’s World Famous Pumpkin Patch and Autumn Jamboree, aka the best pumpkin patch in the world.
“I wanted this book to feel like one of those classic Disney live-action movies – like The Parent Trap or Freaky Friday,” Rowell told us about writing Pumpkinheads. “Emotional and earnest, but also a rollicking good time.” Um, mission accomplished.
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This is one of the most stereotypically fall book you could read this autumn. Set in a Nebraskan pumpkin patch, more specific settings in this fall adventure include The Succotash Hut, The Pie Palace, The Pumpkin Bomb Stand, and The S’mores Pit—and that’s without mentioning the corn maze.
“Nebraska has a very Classic Fall Vibe – changing leaves, cool weather, bonfires,” said Rowell. “And we really leaned into that in the book. Sarah Stern, our colorist, did such a good job bringing that to life.”
“The look that Rainbow wanted for Pumpkinheads was very specific,” added Hicks, “and it was based on a pumpkin patch in the state where she lives in. I visited her before I started drawing the book and took lots of reference pictures, and ate lots of snacks. That visit helped a lot when I sat down to draw Pumpkinheads; being at that particular pumpkin patch and getting to experience its whimsy was important, especially as it’s something very different from fall festivals where I live in Vancouver, Canada.”
You too can experience the Classic Fall Vibe of Pumpkinheads by picking up this coziest of graphic novels at your local book or comic book store.
– Kayti Burt
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
September 10th, Tor Books
“Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!” is probably the year’s best elevator pitch in fiction, or at the very least in sci-fi/fantasy. And maybe you have been hearing about it all year (I got the chance to read this book back in icy February), but of course it could not be released in any season other than fall.
The turning point of the year is the perfect time to meet Gideon Nav, indentured-servant-turned-swordswoman of the Emperor’s Ninth House, and her sworn enemy/reluctant charge, aforementioned necromancer and heri Harrowhark Nonagesimus. When these unlikely representatives of the Ninth journey to the dessicated First House to prove their mettle for immortality against seven other houses’ necromancers and cavaliers, they engage in skeleton battles and spooky riddles and some fascinating scientific experiments that make for bloody good fun.
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A book this delightfully gothy shouldn’t appeal to all audiences, yet is such an utter mood that it does: publishing-industry and not, SFF and not, goths and very much not. When I first heard of its existence, I was ready to write it off as simply not for me—someone who loves fall more for the hygge than the heebie-jeebies, who could not come up with another necromancer story for the life of me.
But I was drawn in by Gideon and her dirty magazines and her desperation to escape the grasp of the Ninth; then her bloody contract with Harrow; then the Clue/And Then There Were None vibe of picking off their sundry competitors. This book is a haunted castle story for people who would rather watch slideshows of people being scared at haunted houses than set foot inside themselves… but it’s also got enough heart and guts to join the canon for those discerning necromancer afficionados.
– Natalie Zutter
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
September 10th, Nan A. Talese
Margaret Atwood’s highly anticipated sequel to dystopian speculative fiction novel The Handmaid’s Tale is finally here! The original, written in 1984’s West Berlin, has always had a spooky fall feel to me, from the New England setting (Cambridge and environs) and the modern tendency to mine the book for Halloween costumes, to the dedication to Mary Webster, Atwood’s ancestor, AKA “Half-Hanged Mary,” an actual 17th century woman who was hanged for witchcraft and lived to tell the tale.
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The sequel, set more than 15 years later, follows the lives of three women. One of the strengths of The Handmaid’s Tale is Offred’s claustrophobic narration – the terror of Gilead hangs over her every thought, and we feel it far more acutely as fear than the existential dread or stomach-churning disgust that Hulu’s series creates. For The Testaments, Atwood has expanded to three perspectives, the identities of which should excite book readers and show fans alike. One is a woman in power, and two are younger women who come of age in the time of Gilead.
I can’t think of many things more terrifying than Margaret Atwood’s writing at her best. Let’s just say if you’re hoping to learn more about the origins of Gilead and what happened after that mysterious ending while finding your next Halloween costume, this is the book for you.
– Delia Harrington
Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell
September 24th, Wednesday Books
Road-trip stories, at least to American readers, feel quintessentially summery: setting out on the open road during the most unstructured time of the year, determined to find yourself in time for whatever life change awaits in the fall. But for Simon Snow, crossing the pond to the States, it feels more like a gap year.
Having dropped out from the Watford School of Magicks and found the loophole in what should have been a fatal Chosen One destiny, Simon is at a loss for what to do now. So of course his best friends drag him off the couch and throw him into a car to go adventuring through the American West. The Supernatural vibes are strong, and that’s before I’ve even gotten into the vampires and shotgun-toting skunk-like creatures that will make for some very amusing detours.
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Instead of attending magic college or following in Harry Potter’s footsteps and jumping into wizardly gainful employment, Simon is taking a breather. What makes Wayward Son feel especially fall-like is that we have no idea for how long, or who Simon will be at the end of this break—just that he’s making a change, not just turning over a new leaf but witnessing how the leaves themselves change and how the wind picks up across America.
– Natalie Zutter
The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring
September 24th, Tor Teen
It’s the 1970s, and Mavi is an Argentine teen who flees Buenos Aires and the military regime that took her mother for a remote girls boarding school located on a remote cliff in Patagonia. The catch in an already complicated existence? The school is haunted. Told from the dual perspectives of Mavi and Angel, one of the “Others” who lives in the house, The Tenth Girl is a novel that will constantly keep you guessing until the very end.
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This book reminded me of both Jane Eyre and The Haunting of Hill House while also feeling entirely original. It’s a debut from Faring, who drew on her own Argentine heritage and her family history in the country when writing the story, and I am eager to see what else this author comes up with. At 464 pages, this is a long one, and a narrative that sometimes prioritizes prose over plot, which could be frustrating for some readers, but the descriptions of this haunted house were luscious enough to keep me interested throughout.
“I just love building Gothic atmosphere,” Faring told Den of Geek in an interview. “It’s one of my favorite things in anything I write: the gloomy, the spooky, the grand, the forgotten, the abandoned. I love that. So that was always sort of simmering in my brain and my imagination for years.” If you like your fall reads with an extra heaping of Gothic atmosphere, then this is the book for you.
– Kayti Burt
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
September 24th, Harper
Ann Patchett (author of the highly decorated Bel Canto, among other beloved books) is the kind of writer whose words curl underneath your skin and make a home there. The plot rarely goes where you expect, but not in a gimmicky way. Even when the action is bombastic, the prose feels quiet, powerful, and mysterious. So when I read that her next book, The Dutch House, is going to be “a dark fairy tale” taking place over five decades, I added it to my mental “to read” list.
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Starting in the late 1940s in Philadelphia when Cyril Conroy buys the mansion for his family, Cyril’s son Danny narrates the book through comings and goings. While it sounds like the book has much of the fairytale trappings we’re used to – a missing parent, children fending for themselves, and of course, an evil stepmother – Patchett is a subtle writer who relishes character, so I’m sure it will feel more magical and strange than Disney-ified and pat.
I’m not a huge fan of typical slasher-horror style books; I like my chills to be more deep-seated and existential than jumpy or gore-y. Grounded in the quotidian familiarity of family and the ways we hurt one another, I’m looking forward to Ann Patchett guiding me on the next journey into the unknown with The Dutch House.
– Delia Harrington
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
October 1st, Saga Press
T. Kingfisher—real name Ursula Vernon—has written cute books for children and even won a Hugo Award for her graphic novel Diggers. Because she writes such a variety of fiction for vastly different audiences, it became all too necessary for the author to wield the pen name T. Kingfisher when she delved into more mature works for older readers.
In The Twisted Ones, Kingfisher teases the kind of Southern-based horror that threatens to drag you down with it. When the main character Mouse has to clean out her deceased grandmother’s house, she finds her grandfather’s journal that appears to be full of nonsense… until she meets one of the horrible he described. One of the things her grandfather’s journal warned against was a secret colony in the woods. She’s also going to be adventuring in those woods, discovering and confronting these mysterious beings alongside her trusty dog.
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Add on top of the supernatural scares the ordinary horrors of uncleanliness—grandma was a hoarder, and I know the book’s description doesn’t mention that because she was a little bad at picking up after herself. Anyone who’s seen an episode or two of Hoarders should know that there’s a lot of terror involved with accumulated stuff: the germs, the forgotten memories, the unwillingness to let go of possessions, the potential hazards of piles of things toppling on unwary passersby.
Coupling the supernatural with a mean-spirited hoarder shaking off her mortal coil to leave her family dealing with her mistakes fascinates the Hell out of me, and I can’t wait to dive in (maybe with a gas mask?). The Twisted Ones holds the kind of intrigue and folksy-dread that promises to enrapture the reader. It’s a “girl and her dog” adventure hinting at a forward-thinking protagonist and I’m all about that.
– Bridget LaMonica
Hex Life: Wicked New Tales of Witchery
October 1st, Titan Books
For a long time, “witch” was a dirty word—a slur used to shame, punish, and isolate women with any kind of power. These days, however, it’s cool to be a witch. The term has been reclaimed in colloquial, feminist circles as a term of empowerment. These days, it’s cool to be a witch, and there’s no better time to revel in the magical moniker then during the Halloween season… when witches are at their most powerful.
These new anthology from some of the most popular women fantasy authors writing today—including Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Caine, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and one of my personal favorites, Theodora Goss—thinks witchiness is cool, too. Hex Life: Wicked New Tales of Witchery includes 18 tales that take classic tropes of witchcraft fiction and infuses them with the feminist perspective they always deserved. With different authors interpreting the theme in different ways, you’ll find a myriad of charms in this witchy tome.
– Kayti Burt
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson
October 1st, Grove Press
Mary Shelley first dreamed up Frankenstein on an especially dreary middle-of-the-night in June 1816, during the Year Without a Summer thanks to oppressive levels of volcanic ash in the atmosphere following an eruption. To wit: despite it technically being summer when she, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and other vacationing houseguests stayed inside during their Lake Geneva trip, the vibe was eerie enough that it made perfect sense to compete for who could tell the spookiest story. Which is why Frankenstein will always feel like an autumnal tale.
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What makes Winterson’s contemporary take feel especially spooky is how it transplants so many of Shelley’s ideas from 200 years ago—the miracle of reanimation, the devastation of rejection, questions of when a creation stops owing its existence to its creator and instead owns its destiny—in modern contexts that make them as relevant as ever.
I don’t know which lens I’m more excited about: the ethics of artificial intelligence superseding puny human brains; the cryogenics facility filled with dozens of bodies almost guaranteed to be reanimated for some nefarious use; the subplot about a humble sex-doll operation that posits new questions about autonomy and consent; or the fact that our modern protagonist is trans. Actually, what I think I’m most excited for will be the portions of the book that retell Shelley’s story—because judging from the angles at which Winterson reexamines this classic, she’ll know just how to get into Shelley’s head on that fateful night.
– Natalie Zutter
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
October 8th, Flatiron Books
Dropout Alex Stern doesn’t consider herself Yale University material, which is why it’s extra strange when she’’s offered an easy in to the elite college. Of course, there’s a catch: she’s tasked with monitoring the spooky goings-on of the school’s secret societies. It’s a fantasy novel that dovetails with the real world, digging in to what might be happening when the rich and well-connected of Yale summon up something occult.
Leigh Bardugo’s name has been on my radar because of her very popular Young Adult fiction. Her first adult offering was also her first work to really catch my eye. The appeal of every supernatural school story is to see the uncanny in a very familiar situation, and while I can’t say I’d get into Yale either, the idea of returning to college to hunt down a cult sounds like it sits right in that wheelhouse.
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So why is this a good book for this fall? This seems to land on the darker side of dark fantasy: Alex survived an attempted, unsolved homicide before the investigation of the occult even starts. Yale’s secret societies meet in eight windowless buildings called “tombs,” and the ninth house in the title may be a supernatural ninth tomb. Readers looking for fantastical horror around Halloween may very well find it here. It’s a back-to-school story too, so while the audience is primarily adults, the autumn is the perfect season to start walking in Alex’s shoes.
A content note: the author has stated that this book may be difficult for some people, and readers disinclined to encounter sexual trauma in their fiction may want to avoid it.)
– Megan Crouse
A Lush and Seething Hell by John Horner Jacobs
October 29th, Harper Voyager
After having recently, finally read The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft my appetite for that quiet, brooding horror has only been stoked. When I stumbled upon this soon-to-be-published piece, I figured I hit jackpot. John Hornor Jacobs is an award-winning author who collects two novellas in this volume: “The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky” and “My Heart Struck Sorrow.” This new release is promising a mix of supernatural and psychological terror, a pairing that does well to get inside one’s mind this time of the year.
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“My Heart Struck Sorrow” follows a librarian who has discovered a music recording from the Deep South that might be from the Devil himself (anyone getting any “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” vibes?). Jacobs has written Southern horror that echoed that famous song’s premise before, notably his book Southern Gods, in which a blues man’s music makes some people go insane while also raising the dead.
“The Sea Drams It Is The Sky” has a little less straightforward description, though no less intriguing: This story features an exiled poet trying to decipher a difficult text, a South American dictatorship and “a young woman trying to come to grips with a country that nearly devoured itself.” Points go to the one who can guess if that devouring is literal or figurative, seeing as this author’s work could go either way.
– Bridget LaMonica
I’m a Gay Wizard by V.S. Santoni
October 29th, Wattpad Books
If I Know What You Did Last Summer decided to hang out with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, but added to the mix LGBTQ coming of age and romance, it might turn out something like Santoni’s debut YA novel, I’m a Gay Wizard.
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Originally released as a Wattpad serial, the novel hits shelves October 29, 2019. Main characters Johnny and Alison spend their summer playing at magical spells—Alison is obsessed with magic, and Johnny goes along for the ride. But when a vengeance spell against bullies tormenting them causes an earthquake, the pair are whisked away to the Marduke Institute, a clandestine school for wizards, and told they must leave their old lives behind… forever.
The Institute is more prison than school, but it’s also where Johnny and Alison meet cute boys Hunter and Blake, who know a lot more about the world than the two newcomer wizards. While this isn’t a creepy, Halloween-y story, it’s a perfect back-to-school tale featuring underrepresented main characters (Johnny is Latinx and gay, Alison is trans) from an #OwnVoices author.
– Alana Joli Abbott
The Witches are Coming by Lindy West
November 5th, Hachette
Back in October of 2017, writer Lindy West wrote a column in The New York Times about bad men’s bad faith responses to the #MeToo movement. It was called “Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You.” Please read it immediately if you haven’t already, and then you’ll know why I’m so excited for this book, which promises to be an expansion of the themes in her original Times piece.
Witches have been having something of a moment right now, and Lindy West’s choice to invoke imagery used to scare women into silence long before it was used to scare children while reclaiming the “witch hunt” phrase shows a glimpse of her power as a writer and thinker. I picture a powerful witch stalking steadily toward perpetrators and their defenders like the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” circles the room at the end of the story: purposeful, terrifying, and a bit mad.
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You might know Lindy West from her time writing classics at Jezebel like her takedown of Love, Actually or from the Hulu show Shrill, which is based on her memoir/scathing cultural critique of the same name. Or perhaps you saw or participated in #ShoutYourAbortion, where folks shared their stories in an effort to destigmatize healthcare, or even from her debate with a comedian about rape jokes on W. Kamau Bell’s television show. The point is, West has been leading and shaping the cultural conversation with wit and intelligence for a long time, especially when it comes to gender, violence, and discrimination.
While it may feel like all we do is talk about gender and violence these days, we still haven’t stepped back and parsed what this means for us in the longer term, beyond each individual case, and on the list of writers I’m eager to hear from on the topic, West is damn near the top.
– Delia Harrington
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
November 5th, Graywolf Press
“Y’all, this book almost killed me dead, but I did it,” Machado tweeted last November when announcing her forthcoming memoir. And if that isn’t gothic AF, then I don’t know what is. After tapping into deep-seated terrors—cruel Girl Scouts and awkward writing residencies, a gut-punch retelling of “The Green Ribbon”—in 2017’s collection Her Body and Other Parties, Machado turns that same excavating eye on her own traumas in In the Dream House. With an eerie cover that evokes a V.C. Andrews novel, Machado traces her own escape from an abusive relationship with a charismatic woman in a genre-bending account that clearly took its toll on her (another hallmark of old-school literary horror).
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What’s more, the story is told in disparate pieces, with each chapter built around a narrative trope: the haunted house, the bildungsroman, erotica. It’s a keen way to compartmentalize and analyze what have to be harrowing memories, and thematically links back to Her Body and Other Parties. Yet there are moments of levity, too, as Machado’s memoir explores hidden passageways of Star Trek, Disney, and fairy tales. The most effective horror (Get Out, Signs, Hereditary) contrasts jarring moments of absurd or even laugh-out-loud comedy alongside the disturbing; I can’t wait to see how Machado holds space for both the light and the dark.
– Natalie Zutter
Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.