It’s coming up on Halloween, a time of year when the leaves begin their sweet ground rot and those bright mornings and long, pink summer evenings are a nearby memory. As we in the Northern Hemisphere face the longer, darker nights, it’s a fitting time of year to read something a little spooky, atmospheric or weird. Here are six new, Own Voices-authored books that fit the moody bill.
“Entering Sappho” by Sarah Dowling (Coach House Books)
Sarah Dowling lived in Seattle for six years, and in this speculative retelling of the history of real-life Sappho, Washington, the Pacific Northwest atmosphere is palpable. Also palpable are the very gay vibes of this book. That is to say, Dowling takes her cues from Sappho the classical poet to rerender Sappho the town, using imagery and metaphor in her own experimental Sappho translations to equate a rich, lush land with the richness and lushness of women. This is an esoteric and somewhat erotic poetry book that will definitely have you thinking of dripping pines along the Pacific Coast Highway.
“Plain Bad Heroines” by Emily M. Danforth (William Morrow)
In her first novel for adults, and her first since 2012’s queer young adult classic “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” Emily M. Danforth delivers a masterfully woven and totally captivating story with “Plain Bad Heroines.” Set in a spooky New England girls school in parallel timelines — present day and the turn of the 20th century — this thick but utterly readable novel follows two students at the school in 1902, and the writer whose book about the school’s queer feminist history is being adapted into a horror film a century later. Full of fascinating queer characters and twisty storylines, this book is a must-read not only for the many who loved Cameron Post, but for anyone looking for an immersive, haunting, wild story.
“Earthlings” by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Grove Press)
If you’re in the mood for weird, Sayaka Murata is always a reliable place to turn. Her 2016 novel “Convenience Store Woman” received praise for its quirky portrayal of an asexual and neurodivergent protagonist living with the burdens of everyday patriarchy. “Earthlings” also has an asexual character, but it centers on Natsuki, a character whose story begins in childhood with her cousin in the mountains and spirals ever more darkly (and bizarrely) into adulthood and its many strange reckonings. This is a story that’s best not to spoil, but it will get into your head.
“The Archive of the Forgotten” by A.J. Hackwith (Ace Books)
Seattle-based fantasy writer A.J. Hackwith’s follow-up to last year’s “The Library of the Unwritten” is the second installment in her Hell’s Library trilogy. It’s best to start with the first book, but the second is its own engrossing story, picking up with librarian Claire and muse Brevity after the events of the previous story. That story involves a library in Hell and threats to literal and metaphorical stories. In “The Archive of the Forgotten,” the protagonists are faced with a mysterious and powerful ink and some new characters. This is an inventive and fun series that is perfect for anyone who likes transphobia-free fantasy, books about books, and an adventure fit for reading by the fire.
“Polar Vortex” by Shani Mootoo (Book*hug)
This quietly thrilling and mysterious novel is Toronto-based writer and artist Shani Mootoo’s fifth, and got her shortlisted for the 2020 Giller Prize. It follows a queer couple, Priya and Alexandra, who move from the city to the country. Priya, in a move that seems hard to understand, invites an old suitor, Prakash, to visit her and Alex in their home after having been more or less stalked by him in the past. The unravelling that follows is an incredible feat of measured pacing that has all the best elements of a psychological thriller without being overwrought. If you’re looking for an immersive, unsettling and fascinating cold-weather read, this one is perfect.
“Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty” by Hana Shafi (Book*hug)
If you’re in the mood for something more explicitly uplifting in this time of ghouls, this little book might be just what’s needed. It’s not a self-help book, but it is full of realistic affirmations and some beautiful, whimsical art (which can be seen on Shafi’s popular Instagram page). Writing on identity, the body, racism, pop culture, feminism and everything else that goes along with being a millennial woman of color, Shafi strikes a rare balance between being funny, hopeful and totally irreverent. This book will lift you out of the darkness but skip the sugarcoating.