Today is the first day of astronomical fall.
You know what that means. Mugs of hot beverages. Pots of soup. Pumpkins on the porch. Warm, fuzzy sweaters.
And curling up under blankets to read.
As daylight wanes and nature prepares itself for a dormant season, it’s the perfect time to spend more hours indoors with a good book. (As if there’s ever not a good time to spend with a book …) This is also the season when the witchy vibe resonates the strongest, and that’s often reflected in my choice of titles from September through November.
Listed below are three of my favorite witchy reads from the past few autumns.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
by Katherine Howe, 2010, Hachette Books, 384 pages
Summary: Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie’s grandmother’s abandoned home near Salem, she can’t refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest – to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.
Katherine Howe knits together the past and the present in this work of historical fiction. Although the book is light on fantasy and the magic is mild, it offers a glimpse into the Salem Witch Trials and an academic pursuit to find the “receipt book” (or recipe book, essentially a grimoire) belonging to Connie’s ancestor.
Storylines that blend magic and academia rank high among my favorites, as well as those that weave magic into our everyday lives and world. Not to mention the Salem Witch Trials have been a historical obsession for me since high school. If any of your interests tick the same boxes, this would be a good book for you.
The All Souls Trilogy
(A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, The Book of Life)
by Deborah Harkness, 2011-2015, Penguin Books, approx. 590 pages each
Summary: Historian Diana Bishop has denied her magical heritage, instead focusing on her academic research into alchemy. But when she stumbles upon a bewitched alchemical manuscript at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, she draws the attention of witches, vampires, and daemons alike. There’s no ignoring her magical past, nor can she ignore geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont as he becomes her unlikely ally in discovering the mystery of the manuscript known as Ashmole 782.
Magic is front and center in this trilogy, which also happens to be a trifecta of fantasy, academia, and romance. Rooted in our modern world, this series introduces us to a world of magic that hovers at the edge of our peripheral vision.
Despite Matthew Clairmont’s possessiveness of Diana driving me crazy, I enjoyed the romance of the trilogy. Plus there’s time travel, globe-trotting, and escalation of magical power as the series progresses.
The Heretic’s Daughter
by Kathleen Kent, 2009, Back Bay Books, 332 pages
Summary: Sarah Carrier Chapman narrates how she survived the Salem Witch Trials that killed her mother. Sarah and her family arrive in a New England community gripped by superstition and fear more than a year before the trials begin. As the family witnesses neighbors and friends pitted against each other, the hysteria escalates, until more than two hundred people have been swept into prison. Among them is Sarah’s mother, Martha Carrier. In an attempt to protect her children, Martha asks Sarah to commit an act of heresy – a lie that will condemn Martha but save her daughter.
This isn’t a novel in which you’ll find cauldrons or incantations – instead, you’ll find monsters among men. This piece of historical fiction sticks close to reality as it explores how the hysteria and accusations could mount against neighbors during the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690s. Even though the trials occurred during a bitter Massachusetts winter, the chilling history of Salem makes this a worthy pick for fall reading.