Here at Off the Shelf, we’re big fans of fall. The leaves are turning; the moon is rising; the temperature is cooling; the apples are ripening; and, of course, the cauldrons are bubbling. That can only mean one thing: it’s time for a theme reading list! This year, we’re feeling a little bit witchy. So from Salem to England to Oz and everywhere in between, here’s an end-of-October list featuring a mix of compelling, magical women—real and imagined—whose covens you’ll be begging to join.
Everyone knows what happened after Dorothy landed in the wonderful land of Oz. This beloved bestselling novel (which also inspired the hit musical) takes a peek behind the curtain to reveal the true story of Elphaba, the girl who would one day become the most feared witch in the land, and Galinda, her classmate and onetime friend, whose path takes a radically different turn. The first book in the Wicked Years series, it’s a dark and delightful backstory that will have you viewing a classic through new eyes.
Based on L. Frank Baum’s beloved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Gregory Maguire’s novel views the land of Oz, its inhabitants, its Wizard, and the Emerald City, through a darker lens. Brilliantly inventive, it offers a radical new evaluation of one of the most feared and hated characters in all of literature: the much maligned Wicked Witch of the West.
Known for her evocative and well-researched novels set in Plantagenet and Tudor England, Philippa Gregory shifted her focus from scandal to sorcery in THE WISE WOMAN. Alys, a young outcast from the moors who lived with the local wise woman, escapes the persecution of those studying the dark arts. She finds work in a castle, where she meets and falls in love with the lord’s married son and decides to summon the darkest power she knows to make him love her back. As a love triangle explodes, so does the potential for danger.
Featuring a 1597 manual for witch hunters, court documents from Salem, an eighteenth-century newspaper report about a woman being stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia, and more, this fascinating collection takes us through the history of English and American accusations of witchcraft. Edited by the bestselling author of THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE, it’s the perfect bedside companion during the Halloween season.
New York City, 1880. Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair are proprietors of Tea and Sympathy, providing a place for a secret society of ladies fluent in cures and spiritual assignations. Then 17-year-old Beatrice Dunn arrives, answering an advertisement for a new shopgirl. Though no one knows it yet, she has great powers; and under Adelaide and Eleanor’s tutelage, she prepares to use them against an evil lurking in the darkest corners of the city.
A historical novel that alternates between present-day England and 1628, THE WITCH’S DAUGHTER follows Elizabeth Anne Hawksmith. Elizabeth has spent the last 384 years keeping a dangerous secret—and running from an even more dangerous figure named Gideon, to whom she owes her life. It’s a page-turning tale filled with romance, adventure, magic, suspense, love, and loss that will captivate any reader.
A centuries-year-old witch looks back at her introduction to the craft in a small town in 1628 and through her various lifetimes as she struggles to evade the man who first taught her everything she knows.
By the end of the Salem witch trials, 207 people had been accused, 74 had been “afflicted,” and 20—most of them women—executed. Most of these individuals have been reduced to stereotypes as the story of Salem has spread and become mythologized. But Roach’s book restores six of these women’s voices to this moment in our history, showing readers what it was truly like to be present and have life changed by the event.
For five years, journalist Alex Mar traveled deep into the world of the American occult, searching for both a good story and the key to her own feelings about faith. The result is this book—a mix of immersive experience and cultural history. Mar explores the roots of paganism, travels to the woods of Illinois for a massive gathering of witches, and finds her way into one of world’s most influential magical societies. It’s a bewitching (sorry, had to) and eye-opening look at the myths and realities of our national obsession with magic.
For five years, Alex Mar traveled deep into the world of the American occult, as both a journalist and someone searching for her own feelings about faith. The book is a mix of immersive experience and cultural history—Mar explores the roots of Paganism, travels to the woods of Illinois for a massive gathering of witches, and finds her way into one of world’s most influential magical societies.
Though Beth Underdown’s debut novel is inspired by the life of the real witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins in seventeenth century England, the story centers on his sister, Alice. After becoming widowed while still a young woman, she goes to live with Matthew and realizes that all is not as it seems. Torn between her devotion to him and her horror at his ruthless methods, Alice dives deep into her family’s history and secrets to try and save both their souls before more innocent lives are lost.
Perfect for fans of Lev Grossman, Deborah Harkness, and J. K. Rowling, this imaginative novel is a tale of two worlds occupied by Nora Fischer, a grad student who accidentally wanders through a portal where she’s transformed from mousy into a stunning beauty. But skills are needed to survive in this new world, and Nora must learn them from a reclusive and grim magician named Aruendiel. When a passage home opens, she must decide which life she wants and what kind of magic she trusts most.