If you’re anything like me, than as fall and Halloween roll around, you like to get cozy with some cider and a spooky or even scary book to read—or better yet, a whole stack of such books. And in general, I love novels with a strong sense of place, that really immerse me in the setting, whether present or past. As an author, I try to always travel to the places where my books are set so that I can bring that setting alive on the page for readers. Here are a few of my favorite spooky reads, all set in real places, much like my new novel The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, which is set in Sleepy Hollow, NY (yes, Sleepy Hollow is a real place!).
The Diviners by Libba Bray
This is one of my all-time favorite novels, one I’ve read multiple times at this point and which I recommend to everyone. Set in New York City in the Roaring ’20s, the book follows a group of young people who have otherworldly powers. One of them, Evie, sets about using hers—she can learn someone’s secrets just by touching one of their possessions—to try to solve a series of horrific, occult murders occurring throughout the city. The ensemble cast in this novel is phenomenal, and Bray brings the New York City of the era to life with all its glamorous flappers and speakeasies while at the same time not shying away from the racism and anti-immigrant bias that ran rampant and gave rise to the eugenics movement. This is the first in a series, with the next two novels out now, so get ready to binge!
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
Another favorite of mine, this dual-timeline novel is set in and near Salem, Massachusetts, and centers on a young graduate student who makes an unexpected discovery in the course of her research: there may have been a heretofore unknown Salem woman hanged as a witch who may actually have been a witch after all. In between showing us glimpses of the Salem of the past, the story follows heroine Connie through her research—and a budding romance—as she begins to discover a very personal connection to the events of Salem’s past. New England—and certainly Salem in particular—is so chock full of history, and Howe captures that vibe perfectly in this book. And Howe just recently announced a sequel to this book, entitled The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, which is set to be released June of next year. So read Deliverance Dane before the second book comes out!
The Visitant by Megan Chance
If you’re a fan of Gothic novels, then look no further than this one. Positively dripping with atmosphere, this historical novel is set in my favorite place on earth: Venice, Italy. Is there anywhere more suited to a Gothic novel than a city full of crumbling palazzos, foggy waterways, and dark and twisty streets? Sent by her family to care for an ailing stranger in the wake of a scandal, the heroine, Elena, finds the palazzo where he lives holds devastating secrets and may be home to more than just its mortal residents. This book has the perfect dark, creepy vibe for October!
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Perhaps a better word than “spooky” for this book is “unnerving”, deeply so. It’s one of those novels that is laced with tension and a general unsettling feeling right from page one. Set in Fall River, Massachusetts, this gorgeously written novel tells the story of the infamous Lizzie Borden through three different points of view: Lizzie herself, her sister Emma, and a male stranger. Schmidt’s prose is both complex and disquieting, and you’ll want to read her sentences over and over again even as you try to turn the pages as quickly as you can. America seems to have a fascination with this case—it remains officially unsolved, even though there seems to be an obvious culprit—and this book is one of the best I’ve read about it. The New England setting—and particularly the stifling atmosphere of the Borden house, which you can still visit today—comes to vivid life, illuminating both the larger community and the ways in which the Bordens seem to have cut themselves off from it.
The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow
This illustrated YA novel, set in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, follows teenaged Winnie Flynn, who is struggling in the wake of her mother’s death by suicide. Though she doesn’t believe in the paranormal, she goes to work on her aunt’s hit reality TV show, where investigators are trying to track down proof of the existence of the Jersey Devil, and Winnie is trying to track down truths about her family. From motels to the woods of the Pine Barrens to an old asylum, the settings definitely add to the spooky atmosphere of the paranormal show. Told in the form of letters Winnie writes to a friend, this book is also full of heart and stellar artwork, and the way that the text and the artwork interact and inform one another is brilliant and just what an illustrated novel should be. Let me add that this book is also EXTREMELY creepy! I read it in a day—it’s hard not to!
ALYSSA PALOMBO is the author of The Violinist of Venice and The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. Her most recent novel, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, is now available from St. Martin’s. She is a recent graduate of Canisius College with degrees in English and creative writing, respectively. A passionate music lover, she is a classically trained musician as well as a big fan of heavy metal. When not writing, she can be found reading, hanging out with her friends, traveling, or planning for next Halloween. She lives in Buffalo, New York, where she is always at work on a new novel.