Stephanie Cohen-Perez

Empty nester Margaret Hartman is thrilled when she and her husband, Hal, buy a gorgeous old Victorian home. But the house soon begins testing them with annual September “shenanigans”: blood oozing down the walls, creepy spirits of 19th-century children and a demonic boogeyman that even an experienced priest can’t exorcize. Margaret and Hal weather three cursed Septembers, but Margaret in particular is in it for the long haul. When Hal disappears on the eve of the fourth September and his and Margaret’s daughter, Katherine, arrives to search for him, family secrets are brought to light.

From the ghost of a murdered maid to swarms of giant flies, the house’s antics become routine for Margaret, and her wry, witty narration will also accustom readers to these supernatural events. Despite the house’s horrors, it still provides Margaret with a haven, a purpose and an emotional connection to an eerie spirit community. But when author Carissa Orlando reveals why Margaret is so good at putting out proverbial fires and quelling very real ghosts, The September House takes an unexpected emotional turn. Margaret knows that ugly secrets can be carried well beyond the grave, and it’s better to heal, forgive and protect when you can. Her interactions with Katherine are particularly tense and anxiety-inducing as Orlando explores an estranged parent-child relationship impacted by intergenerational trauma. 

The September House pulls inspiration from classic settings such as the Bates Motel, Rose Red, the Overlook Hotel and Hill House, but Orlando’s characterization of the old Victorian is fresh and fascinating. The house serves as an analogy for the deterioration of family and mental health, with the collapse of a person’s mind being more terrifying than any specter lurking in the shadows. Some of the body horror moments may feel familiar, but Margaret’s delightfully matter-of-fact voice puts a new spin on even the oldest of tropes, and the novel’s horrifying events unfold at a furious pace. The September House is a riveting adventure that will grab you by the ankles and drag you down into the pitch-black basement you’ve been warned to avoid.

Carissa Orlando’s darkly funny and unexpectedly emotional The September House follows an empty nester who refuses to leave her extremely haunted Victorian home.

Freya Marske’s follow-up to her acclaimed debut, A Marvellous Light, is a stunning, sensual companion novel that follows the threads of the same overarching mystery: a threat to the magical community in Edwardian England. A Restless Truth focuses on Maud Blyth, sister to A Marvellous Light’s Robin, as she discovers her own strengths and explores her sexuality in this magical murder mystery. 

Maud is working as a lady’s companion for the older and sometimes aggravating magician Elizabeth Navenby aboard the transatlantic ocean liner Lyric. When Mrs. Navenby is found dead in her room with several valuable items missing, Maud suspects foul play. As Maud learns more about her employer’s life, she realizes the murder may be connected to the mission Robin and his partner, Edwin, pursued in the first book in the series: to protect three artifacts so powerful they can affect all of the magic in the world.

A delightfully brash and boisterous cast of possible suspects and allies drives the story. There’s Lord Hawthorne, a gentleman with a reputation for sexual prowess; Alan Ross, a shady journalist with a keen ear for gossip; and Violet Debenham, an alluring actor-turned-heiress whose scandalous past only makes her all the more enticing. As they turn the decks of the Lyric upside down in their search for the killer and the objects they stole, Maud is the relatable center of the storm. She’s an immediately engaging protagonist, both because of her desire to prove herself to her brother and the magician community and because of her evolving understanding of her sexuality. Marske conjures yet another spellbinding romance, this time between Maud and Violet, who is as sharp-tongued and adventurous as Maud is wide-eyed and curious. Sparks fly between the two young women upon their first meeting, but will their connection last after the murder is solved? 

A Restless Truth is a thrilling mystery and a lush historical fantasy that will leave readers breathless—both from its exciting plot twists and its captivating romance.

Freya Marske’s follow-up to A Marvellous Light is a stunning, sensual love story wrapped in an exciting murder mystery.

Station Eternity, Mur Lafferty’s intergalactic whodunit, is a thrilling ride starring interesting characters from the farthest reaches of the universe.

There are many aliens on Space Station Eternity but only three humans. The sentient station granted sanctuary to social outcast (by choice and for good reason) Mallory Viridian and the insufferable Adrian Casserly-Berry, an ambassador from Earth. Mallory left Earth without a second glance because no matter where she goes, someone she knows dies. It’s like she’s the heroine of a cozy mystery series, except she has to deal with real-life consequences like always being a suspect and worrying that the people around her aren’t long for this world. The third human on the station is stowaway Xan Morgan, a handsome former soldier with a mysterious past, and Mallory is terrified he”ll fall prey to her curse. When it’s announced that a new shuttle full of humans will dock on Eternity, she knows they”ll soon be in danger as well. And sure enough, as soon as more humans arrive, both they and the station’s alien inhabitants start dying.

With its focus on the diverse races of aliens who call the space station home, Station Eternity is more creative than many stories with a similar setting, and its human characters are far more humble. They are hitching a most likely temporary ride on the station and therefore can never forget that they need to respect the aliens’ ways. Lafferty describes various alien beings with dry wit, gusto and imagination, from the rocklike Gneiss to a hivemind of sentient wasps who constantly ask inappropriate personal questions. Even though the story is told from Mallory’s perspective, Lafferty’s universe contains multitudes.

Beyond the book’s sci-fi trappings, Lafferty also crafts a solid mystery, with perfectly timed reveals and clues, and her quick banter and endearing characters shine all the way to the finale. Mallory, her comrades and her foes all have flaws, and many of them are survivors of violent or abusive situations. The near-future world of Station Eternity is not a rosy utopia, and there is much discourse among the characters on the difficulties of being femme, or queer, or trans, or a person of color. It makes Mallory’s quest to protect Eternity—an island of hope, coexistence and cooperation in a vast, alien-eat-alien universe—all the more imperative.

This space station-set mystery stands out thanks to its endearing characters, both human and alien.

The Book Eaters, Sunyi Dean’s debut, is a dark, haunting fantasy that follows Devon Fairweather, a Book Eater who subsists on ink and paper and the knowledge it provides her. The Book Eaters, or ‘eaters, live on the fringes of human society, and were it not for the special, fang-like teeth that they unsheathe before a literary meal, they would look like ordinary people. Devon has always detested the staunch traditions of her isolated clan, and The Book Eaters jumps back and forth in time as she tries to forge her own path. 

One of the most memorable and haunting elements of Dean’s world is how Book Eater society is structured around elements of Arthurian legend that are used to justify patriarchal, tyrannical rule. The young Devon lives a sheltered life as a Princess. Female Book Eaters are rare, and she is expected to marry early and promptly give birth to more of their kind. While her brothers eat books about politics, history and academics, she is limited to the same old fairy tales time and time again. Knights maintain order and govern the Dragons, who are born as Mind Eaters, unpredictable individuals who constantly crave human souls. Drugs keep their hunger at bay and force them to submit to their handlers’ orders. 

Devon has always seen through the facade of the happily ever afters she consumes, and when she gives birth to a Mind Eater son, Cai, she realizes she is the only person who can save him from becoming a Dragon. In the present timeline, Devon and the now 5-year-old Cai have escaped the ‘eaters, but Devon is struggling to keep him under control and out of the Knights’ grasp while she searches for a way that they can both be free for good.

Dean fully invests readers in Devon’s struggles, both as a girl attempting to prise tiny snatches of freedom from a patriarchal society and as an adult mother frantic to protect her son. The Book Eaters‘ depiction of the sacrifices and joys of motherhood is particularly nuanced, grounding the fantasy elements of the story in the relationship between Devon and Cai. And Dean expertly expands the scope of the story to explore even more characters’ experiences, such as the other ‘eater women’s oppression and loneliness, Devon’s friend Yarrow’s isolation as an asexual person in the procreation-obsessed ‘eater society and Cai’s pain at being viewed as a monster.

The Book Eaters is a far cry from the fairy tales Devon consumes: It is a winding, harrowing, deliciously nightmarish story of people taking control of their bodies and destinies after generations of repression and abuse.

In Sunyi Dean's debut, beings who consume books to survive hide on the fringes of society. It sounds like a fairy tale, but it's actually a nightmare.

In Ordinary Monsters, author J.M. Miro introduces readers to the Talents, a fragmented Victorian community of young people with supernatural gifts. This global adventure traverses 19th-century America, England, Scotland and Japan before eventually landing at the Cairndale Institute outside of Edinburgh, where the Talents are learning to control and hone their powers. These lessons become crucial once they hear that the drughr, a creature from the netherworld that absorbs other beings’ power, is on the loose—and headed right toward them.

The first in a planned trilogy, Ordinary Monsters plays off the well-loved and well-worn tropes of chosen ones and magical institutions for children, but Miro (the pen name of a literary novelist) freshens things up with a large, sweeping scope and a likable, diverse cast of characters. Charlie Ovid is a 16-year-old Black boy whose body heals itself no matter the severity of the wound. For Charlie, the Cairndale Institute provides an escape from the post-Civil War American South. Marlowe, an 8-year-old boy who glows blue, travels from the streets of London to a Midwestern sideshow troupe before ending up at Cairndale. These powerful children are unsurprisingly poignant, but their allies and guardians are the ones who really seize the reader’s emotions. Standouts include the duo who shepherd Charlie to Cairndale: Alice Quicke, a wily and resourceful detective, and Frank Coulton, her gruff partner (who’s secretly a total teddy bear). Another is Marlowe’s guardian, Brynt, a tattooed carnival wrestler whose stature is only dwarfed by her kindness.

As the children try to unravel the secrets of the Institute and the intentions of its head, Dr. Baghurst, the high stakes never falter, the body horror is deliciously and macabrely wrought, and the mysteries and surprises never stop coming. Miro intersperses crucial flashbacks to characters’ backstories during intense moments, creating a gleeful and maddening ride between the past and the present as each character’s arc is explored in full detail.

Miro cleverly adapts beloved fantasy tropes and swirls them into Ordinary Monsters, a book about life and death, magic and monstrosities, with plenty of mysteries for readers to solve.

J.M. Miro cleverly adapts the beloved fantasy tropes of gifted children and magical schools in Ordinary Monsters.

In Siren Queen, Nghi Vo presents an alternate history of golden age Hollywood that is at times dreamlike, at times nightmarish.

When Chinese American movie fan Luli Wei stumbles onto a film set as a child and snags a minor role, her career aspirations are forever altered. She decides to plunge headlong into an industry where she is not accepted or celebrated, and must constantly claw her way through adversity to gain even the smallest achievement.

Luli is no stranger to enchantments—her mother weaves intricate household spells from time to time—but her time in Hollywood reveals their darker side. In Vo’s alternate America, movie magic isn’t just makeup, costumes and special effects. Young, vulnerable actors sell their souls, bodies and identities for fame and fortune, and still, the show must go on.

Vo’s spellbinding prose captures the allure and discomfort that Hollywood holds for outspoken, witty Luli. She experiences constant prejudice and possible danger as a queer Asian woman, but the film community also provides her with an opportunity to explore her sexuality in relative, if tenuous, safety. Formidable and talented, Luli is adamant that she will be the Asian actress who breaks the mold to play more than a scorned lover or a servant. At first, she sacrifices parts of herself to achieve this goal, but she eventually reaches the limit of what she is willing to give. The more secrets she learns, the more determined she becomes to overturn the status quo and create a safe haven for other marginalized actors.

Beyond its intricate world building and incisive cultural commentary, Siren Queen is a moving exploration of romance, loss and complex family dynamics. Readers will be fully invested in Luli’s journey as she comes into her own, defies the industry’s attempts to own her and pursues her happiness.

Beyond its intricate world building and incisive cultural commentary, Siren Queen is a moving exploration of romance, loss and complex family dynamics.

In Francesca May’s stunning, gorgeously composed fantasy debut, Wild and Wicked Things, a dissipated coven of witches and a meek young woman become unexpected allies.

Annie Mason has led a quiet and ordinary life. When her estranged father dies shortly after the end of World War I, she reluctantly travels to Crow Island to take care of his estate. The island also happens to be the very place her former best friend, Bea, resides in a fancy house on the sea with her new husband. Crow Island is famous across the land for its faux magic parlors and fake spells and potions, but Annie soon learns that its inhabitants also practice true, darker-than-imagined magic. When she rents a summer cottage next to the infamous Cross House, where a coven throws lavish parties that feature Prohibited magic, Annie is given an opportunity to find a place—and maybe a person—that actually feels like home.

May seamlessly transports readers to the shores of Crow Island, straight into the shoes of Annie and de facto coven leader Emmeline Delacroix. Annie is whisked away by the island’s enchantment, and May’s prose echoes F. Scott Fitzgerald to capture the finery and wild parties of the era. And while Annie originally thinks she’s being bewitched by the coven’s magic or the island, she comes to realize that she is simply following her innermost desires. The supposedly cursed island gives her time and space to come to terms with grief over lost loved ones and her internalized shunning of her sapphic sexuality. Emmeline’s inexplicable and undeniable magnetism is a clever plot complication but also the perfect setup for a passionate, slow-burning queer romance that feels forged in destiny.

Under all the glamour, Wild and Wicked Things is also a nuanced exploration of intergenerational trauma and abusive relationships. Emmeline hovers over her adoptive siblings, Isobel and Nathan, even though their abusive guardian, coven founder Cilla, is long gone. Annie finds herself in a similar situation as she tries to shield Bea from a marriage gone wrong, and she and Emmeline bond over their roles as protectors and healers. But nothing is truly black and white, from the witches’ backstories and intentions, to Bea’s desires, to Annie’s past. May does not shy away from the macabre, and every twist is better and eerier than the last.

May’s thrilling fantasy takes familiar tropes, mashes them with a mortar and pestle, sprinkles them with a bit of herbs and throws them into the cauldron, creating a fresh and exciting take on witchy historical fantasy.

Wild and Wicked Things is a stunning, gorgeously composed historical fantasy with a compelling queer romance at its heart.

Christina Henry’s Horseman is an atmospheric and haunting reimagining of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” perfect for both fans of classic horror and those new to the tale of the Headless Horseman. Henry’s retelling centers on 14-year-old Bente “Ben” Van Brunt, the grandson of Katrina Van Tassel and Brom Bones, whose tale-as-old-as-time romance once sparked rumors of the ghostly Horseman and ran a gangly, awkward schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane out of town. When a child is killed, supposedly by the shadowy folkloric monster the Kludde, the usually sleepy little town of Dutch descendants erupts into chaos as more murders ensue and people point fingers at the Horseman and each other.

The orphan Ben has lived his entire life in this small town with his Oma Katrina and Opa Brom. Ben, who is transgender, experiences much frustration with fellow townsfolk who insist on repeatedly misgendering him and accusing him of witchcraft, a traditionally feminine stereotype. Henry’s depiction of Ben’s experience as a trans boy feels a little forced, bordering on stereotypical. There are several descriptions of him being a “boy soul in a girl’s body,” as well as an assumption that he will not be able to have a family or children.

But there is even more that sets him apart from the other folks in the Hollow. Ben can hear whispers in the woods at the end of a forbidden path, and he has visions of the Horseman, who says he is there to protect him. And perhaps worst of all, he’s the only person who actually wants to leave the tightknit community marked by old wives’ tales and superstitious secrets.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: The year’s best Halloween reads, ranked from slightly spooky to totally terrifying.

With visceral visions of nightmares, creepy prose and a pace as fast as the rush of horses’ hooves, Henry’s take on Irving’s classic story is a one-sitting read, a chilling romp into the forest that will remind readers that sometimes the scariest monster in the room is human nature (not even pumpkin-headed horsemen or the author’s horrifying twist on Ichabod Crane’s fate). While there are some truly shiver-inducing, gruesome scenes in which victims of the Kludde are discovered decapitated and handless, Henry depicts the evil that resides inside the human inhabitants of the Hollow as the most terrifying form, from racism and bigotry to transphobia and the sexualization of children.

Ben has staunch allies in his best friend, Sander; his Opa Brom; and eventually his Oma Katrina—not to mention in his guardian Horseman—but the closed-mindedness of the Hollow, and the nefarious intentions of some of its inhabitants, create a stifling atmosphere, one ready to erupt into flames from the strike of a single match. Readers should also be aware that Henry frequently includes dialogue that reflects the transphobic and sexist beliefs many people held during the Colonial era, while also depicting customs that reflect such beliefs. As Ben unravels the energetically paced mystery and makes connections between the death of his parents and the recent murders, he will inspire readers who love their families but long to forge their own paths.

Christina Henry’s Horseman is an atmospheric and haunting reimagining of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” perfect for both fans of classic horror and those new to the tale of the Headless Horseman.

Marjorie Liu’s haunting collection of short stories, The Tangleroot Palace, is an astonishing foray into fantastical escapism. These are reworkings of older works of short fiction, and together they create both a love letter to Liu's illustrious career and a curious and joy-filled glimpse into the future. Readers who want to be immersed in otherworldly adventures with feminist themes will find a gifted and enchanting guide in Liu.

As readers find themselves gleefully lost in the labyrinthine forest of stories and monsters that Liu has created, certain beloved tropes will ring true. Liu’s love for superheroes is apparent, especially in the tale of lonely geneticist Alexander “Lex Luthor” Lutheran, who fantasizes about being a comic supervillain. Liu consistently returns to themes of found family, freedom from societal expectations and grappling with the good, the bad and the ugly of family legacy to forge one’s own path as a strong hero. Her various reconstructed fairy tales will also be pleasant surprises for those who grew up wondering why princesses never had more agency and why witches were often portrayed in a negative light.

While common motifs develop across these tales, Liu’s versatility within and mastery of multiple fantasy subgenres also shines. In “Sympathy for the Bones,” teenage Clora reluctantly helps her guardian, Old Ruth, create poppets to kill locals on demand; “The Briar and the Rose” and “The Last Dignity of Man” showcase two very different queer love stories; “Call Her Savage” envisions an alternate history in which women are respected and feared in the military and across timelines; and “After the Blood” is a post-pandemic Amish vampire story (talk about words you never expected to see together in a sentence!) that tests a couple’s love and offers hope and light in the face of a ravaged world.

With its vivid characters and relatable themes, The Tangleroot Palace is, frankly, a marvel. Liu is a chameleon of a writer when it comes to settings and world building. From another writer, these various stories might have felt haphazardly cobbled together, but not here. These are all stories of survival and strength, no matter the cost, in which women are joyously celebrated as heroes, warriors, scientists, sorceresses and duelists. On every page of The Tangleroot Palace, women have the power to take their own stories back and rework them in ways that are resilient, powerful and new.

Marjorie Liu’s haunting collection of short stories, The Tangleroot Palace, is an astonishing foray into fantastical escapism.

T.L. Huchu’s first installment of the Edinburgh Nights series, The Library of the Dead, is a kaleidoscopic adventure that melds the phantasmagoric with the mundane.

Ropa Moyo is struggling to both make ends meet and take care of her beloved Gran and little sister, Izwi. She dropped out of school to work as a ghosttalker, a messenger between the deceased and the people they left behind. Ropa is always eager for a quick gig, but an eerie pattern has begun to emerge. Ghosts all over Edinburgh have been warning her of cursed and bewitched local children, and Ropa is wary of whatever powerful entity might be employing this dark magic. To help her figure out what’s going on, her childhood best friend, Jomo Maige, takes Ropa to the mysterious Library where his father works, an occult research facility where Ropa can check out books on magic to supplement her patient Gran’s ghosttalker lessons and where her library card is a desiccated ear. Huchu’s twisty and devilishly macabre novel follows Ropa, Jomo and Ropa's new Library ally, Priya, a healer who uses a wheelchair, as they unravel a mystery so chilling that even the ghosts of Edinburgh shudder in revulsion.

Huchu has crafted an unforgettable character in Ropa, from her green locs to her black lipstick to her sense of humor, which is sharp enough to rival the dagger she carries on her body at all times. Ropa is a smart-talking, intelligent survivor, and she wants to provide the best opportunities for Izwi and a safe, stable home for her benevolent Gran. Ropa secretly finds joy in helping set spirits free, though she hides this soft spot with her sardonic quips. She gives off the impression of being a lone wolf, but her friendship with Jomo is constantly endearing, and her connection with Priya provides her with a new ride-or-die pal who is just as passionate about all things strange and unusual.

Ropa conveys messages from the dead to their unrequited high school crushes and alleviates tensions to prevent intrafamily hauntings, so how difficult could this new adventure be? But her Library explorations push her skills further than she ever imagined, while helping her learn more about the magical abilities passed down through her Zimbabwean family. Ropa’s pursuit of greater power and knowledge is always tied to how she can best protect her community, which is one of the most charming aspects of this very charming book. She is dedicated to becoming not only a proper magician but also a more compassionate ghosttalker, trailing the footsteps of those who came before and forging a new path for those who will follow.

T.L. Huchu’s first installment of the Edinburgh Nights series, The Library of the Dead, is a kaleidoscopic adventure that melds the phantasmagoric with the mundane.

Heather Walter’s debut novel, Malice, transforms the familiar fairytale of Sleeping Beauty into a captivating fantasy romance between the storybook Princess Aurora and the dark sorceress Alyce.

Walter’s immersive world building plunges readers into the Briar Kingdom, built on a system of inequality and discrimination. The fae, known as Graces, are kept as magical servants for cold-blooded mortal nobles. The Graces can create beauty and light, but Alyce’s magic seems to produce only ugliness and pain. Known as the Dark Grace, Alyce is the last descendant of a type of fae known as the Vila, and her relationship with the other fae is complicated—some avoid her, all fear her and most are willing to throw her under the bus. 

When Alyce decides to attend a masquerade ball despite not being invited, she is outed as the dark fairy by one of Princess Aurora’s failed and jealous suitors. Alyce flees, but Aurora runs after her and Alyce is shocked at how down-to-earth the princess is. Aurora must find her true love by age 21 or she will be cursed to sleep forever. She has been kissed by many noblemen, often strangers, to try and break the curse, but none have succeeded. As Alyce and Aurora grow closer, the Dark Grace becomes determined to find a way to break the spell.

Told through the puckish voice of Alyce, Malice is a sympathetic take on the traditionally one-dimensional figure of the dark fairy. Alyce’s wry wit and determination to save Aurora make her instantly sympathetic, a refreshing change from other fairytale retellings that attempt to conjure some meticulous, outlandish backstory to explain the evil doings of a nefarious character. Alyce is feared, yes, but for things she’s had from birth and can’t control. Her growing love for Aurora and her increasing resistance to the status quo shine through her gloomy outlook, and as she learns about the history of Briar and the truth behind the treatment of the fae, Alyce learns some unexpected truths about her powers as well.

This heartfelt, ever-escalating story of true love burns bright, encouraging readers to brush aside shame or condescension and follow their hearts.

Heather Walter’s debut novel, Malice, transforms the familiar fairytale of Sleeping Beauty into a dark and compelling fantasy romance between the storybook princess and the dark sorceress Alyce.

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