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8 Mesmerizing Gothic Novels to Read While the Winter Winds Blow

February 17 2021
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I like to read at every time of year, and if I could read 24/7, I probably would. But there is something to be said about the kind of magic you find in reading the perfect book, at the perfect time. For me, that happens to be gothic novels when the air outside is bitter and the fog clings low to the road. It’s the short winter days and long winter nights curled beneath a thick comforter with ghosts to keep me company. If you also take comfort in a good gothic novel, or perhaps are just looking to lose yourself in a grand castle or on the moors of some forgotten place, then look no further than these incredible reads.

A House of Ghosts
by W. C. Ryan

A mysterious island, a seance, house guests with secrets to hide, a terrible storm, and murder all make for an enchanting gothic novel, and Ryan successfully pulls all of these elements together in A HOUSE OF GHOSTS. I also love that this novel is a historical fiction set during the first world war. Lord Highmount is desperate to find out what happened to his two sons who were lost in conflict, so he hosts a spiritualist event at Blackwater Abbey in hopes of making contact with them. However, everyone that arrives has a secret. And once the storm rolls in, those secrets are trapped inside with them. A HOUSE OF GHOSTS is a great locked-room mystery with touches of the supernatural and an incredible atmospheric feel.

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A House of Ghosts
W. C. Ryan

Finalist for the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction Book of the Year, a Classic Cozy Big-House Mystery Haunted by the Specters of World War One—For Readers of Agatha Christie and Simone St. James

Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives. At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, armaments manufacturer Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons, both of whom died at the front.

Among the guests, two have been secretly dispatched from the intelligence service: Kate Cartwright, a friend of the family who lost her beloved brother at the Somme and who, in the realm of the spiritual, has her own special gift; and the mysterious Captain Donovan, recently returned from Europe. Top secret plans for weapons developed by Lord Highmount’s company have turned up in Berlin, and there is reason to believe enemy spies will be in attendance. As the guests arrive, it becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends, they find themselves trapped on the island. Soon one of their number will die. For Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one . . . .

An unrelenting, gripping mystery, packed with twists and turns and a kindling of romance, A House of Ghosts is the perfect cold-weather read.

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The Lost History of Dreams
by Kris Waldherr

I have always been obsessed with the phrase “All love stories are ghost stories in disguise.” So when I read it on the back of THE LOST HISTORY OF DREAMS, I knew it was a book I wanted to read, and it is that very saying that has fueled my passion for gothic novels. Robert, a former historian turned post-mortem photographer’s task is simple. He must transport his brother’s body to the chapel in Shropshire that was built as the final resting place for his wife, Ada. But Ada’s niece refuses to let him enter unless he agrees to record the real story of Hugh and Ada’s relationship. The story she tells over the course of five days forces him to confront his own life, one of love, obsession, and of course ghosts.

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The Lost History of Dreams
Kris Waldherr

A post-mortem photographer unearths dark secrets from the past that may hold the key to his future in this “sensual, twisting gothic tale…in the tradition of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights” (BookPage).

All love stories are ghost stories in disguise. “This one happily succeeds at both” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

When famed Byronesque poet Hugh de Bonne is discovered dead in his bath one morning, his cousin Robert Highstead, a post-mortem photographer, is charged with a simple task: transport Hugh’s remains for burial in a chapel. This chapel, a stained-glass folly set on the moors, was built by de Bonne sixteen years earlier to house the remains of his beloved wife and muse, Ada. Since then, the chapel has been locked and abandoned, a pilgrimage site for the rabid fans of de Bonne’s last book, The Lost History of Dreams.

However, Ada’s grief-stricken niece refuses to open the glass chapel for Robert unless he agrees to her bargain: before he can lay Hugh to rest, Robert must record Isabelle’s story of Ada and Hugh’s ill-fated marriage over the course of five nights.

As the mystery of Ada and Hugh’s relationship unfolds, so too does the secret behind Robert’s own marriage—including that of his fragile wife, Sida, who has not been the same since a tragic accident three years earlier and the origins of his morbid profession that has him seeing things he shouldn’t...things from beyond the grave.

Blurring the line between the past and the present, truth and fiction, and ultimately, life and death, The Lost History of Dreams is “a surrealist, haunting tale of suspense where every prediction turns out to be merely a step toward a bigger reveal” (Booklist).

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Close
Bellman & Black
by Diane Setterfield

Setterfield’s writing is always beautiful, and that appeared in spades in BELLMAN & BLACK. When William Bellman was ten years old, he killed a bird with a catapult, and ever since then people always said he could go good or bad. But it seems that his life has turned out for the better. He has a loving and beautiful wife, a brood of happy children, and a successful business. That is, until the people around him start dying. And at each funeral, Bellman recognizes a strange man dressed in black. But when the deaths become more and more personal and William is left with only one of his children, he becomes tortured with grief. After a night of drinking he finds himself at his wife’s fresh grave, and who should be there, but the stranger with an interesting business proposition.

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Bellman & Black
Diane Setterfield

#1 New York Times bestselling author

“An astonishing work of genius.” —Bookreporter
“Magically transformative.” —Bookpage

Can one moment in time haunt you forever?
From the instant #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Thirteenth Tale comes a “poetic and mysterious” (Booklist) story that will haunt you to your very core.

Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all. But rooks don’t forget…

Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William’s life, his fortunes begin to turn—and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born.

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Whispering Hearts
by V.C. Andrews

Secrets and big houses seem to be two helpful ingredients in a good gothic novel and mixed with the style and tone of V.C. Andrews, then you have a book you don’t want to miss out on. Emma, a young adult from the English countryside, has big dreams of becoming a Broadway star. But when she announces that she’s moving to New York, her father disowns her. Emma still moves, determined to make her dreams come true, but after a robbery and another dead-end job, she realizes that she might just have to give up. Then she meets a strange, but an intriguing young couple with a proposition: the wife cannot have a baby, and the husband wants to pay Emma to solve that problem. Excited to get some money, Emma moves into the couple’s remote estate. But when she finally realizes that she may have traded life for that money, there is no telling who she’ll be when she finally gets paid.

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Whispering Hearts
V.C. Andrews

A desperate young woman’s bargain with a wealthy couple is not what it seems. From the #1 New York Times bestselling author and literary phenomenon V.C. Andrews—whose books are now major Lifetime TV movies (Flowers in the Attic, Heaven, Ruby)—comes a gothic tale of big city dreams gone wrong.

The English countryside is beautiful, but for Emma Corey it cannot compare with the bright lights of New York City. Tired of performing only in pubs and at church, she announces she’s moving to America—and her conservative father disowns her on the spot.

Distraught but undeterred, Emma will become a Broadway star—or die trying. Leaving the comforts of her youth is a thrilling adventure. The largeness of the city, her new friends, the boundless opportunities make everything shine with promise. However, New York has a way of chipping away at a newcomer’s resolve. First a robbery. Then a low-wage job. Then the realization that such a city attracts the young and the talented—competitors all.

Just when it seems like Emma might have to admit defeat and return to the UK, she is introduced to a peculiar couple: a wife that cannot bear children of her own, and a husband who would pay Emma to solve that problem.

Emma’s father once told her, “Money is life.” But when Emma trades one for the other and moves into the couple’s remote estate to participate in an elaborate ruse, there’s no telling what kind of life she’ll have once she’s taken the money.

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The Vanishing
by Sophia Tobin

The Twentymans live at White Windows, an isolated house in the Yorkshire Moors, filled with secrets. Marcus is a sensitive man, but a drinker, and his sister, a cold widower. When Annaleigh, a young woman fleeing her home in London, finds herself a place as a servant at White Windows, she is grateful. But isolated, Annaleigh is drawn over and over again to Marcus and as their relationship grows, she realizes that her life is no longer her own. She must face her fears if there is any hope of escape. THE VANISHING is set during the Regency era and Tobin effortlessly encapsulates the desolate, terrifying, and sometimes beautiful idea of the moors.

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The Vanishing
Sophia Tobin

From the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Silversmith’s Wife comes an “undeniably page-turning (Daily Mail) novel: “Think Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, but ten times darker…as eerie and gothic as the Yorkshire Moors it is set on” (Stylist).

On top of the Yorkshire Moors, in an isolated spot carved out of a barren landscape, lies White Windows, a house of shadows and secrets. Here lives Marcus Twentyman, a hard-drinking but sensitive man, and his sister, the brisk widow, Hester.

When runaway Annaleigh first meets the Twentymans, their offer of employment and lodging seems a blessing. Only later does she discover the truth. But by then she is already in the middle of a web of darkness and intrigue, where murder seems the only possible means of escape…

Stunning and vividly atmospheric, The Vanishing is thrilling historical fiction for fans of Sarah Waters and Tracy Chevalier.

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Catherine House
by Elisabeth Thomas

When I first picked up CATHERINE HOUSE, I was intrigued but didn’t fully know what to expect. I have a deep interest in unique schools with dark secrets. Maybe it has something to do with going to an all-girls catholic school with a nun who used to try and scare us with the craziest ghost story she could. But what can I say, CATHERINE HOUSE, like any good Gothic novel, is both mysterious and alluring. The Catherine House is not like other universities or schools, but instead is an experiment in higher education that has produced some of the greatest authors, artists, scientists, and presidents. In exchange for this elite education, the students must dedicate themselves fully to Catherine House with no outside connection, no internet, no phones, not even their clothes. After tragedy strikes involving Ines’ roommate, Baby, she begins to realize that this place may be more of a gilded prison with a dangerous secret than anything else.

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Catherine House
Elisabeth Thomas

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Mexican Gothic
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I finished reading MEXICAN GOTHIC months ago, and I still cannot get this book out of my head. Not only was it just a visual and visceral read, but every moment feels etched into my brain by Moreno-Garcia’s excellent hand. As the title suggests, MEXICAN GOTHIC is a true gothic novel, perfect for fans of the genre, but not for the faint of heart. After receiving a concerning letter from her cousin, Noemi travels to the countryside unsure of what she’ll find. High Place is cold, unwelcoming, and its inhabitants even more so. As Noemi digs into what caused her cousin to write that letter, she begins to unearth ungodly secrets about the former mining dynasty that she married into.

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Mexican Gothic
Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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The Snow Collectors
by Tina May Hall

This book is compelling and will take you in odd directions you never saw coming while shadowed with Victorian ghosts. After losing both her parents and twin sister at sea, Henna is lost and adrift. She secluded herself in a small northeastern village. Suddenly she is plunged into a centuries-old mystery after finding the body of a young woman at the edge of the forest. Henna finds herself trying to discover what happened to the Franklin expedition that went missing in 1845. As she investigates, she finds herself in the eerie gothic world with a crumbling mansion with locked doors and secret passageways set against the perpetual snow. But someone is watching her, someone who doesn’t want their secrets revealed.

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The Snow Collectors
Tina May Hall

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MENTIONED IN:

8 Mesmerizing Gothic Novels to Read While the Winter Winds Blow

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Photo credit: iStock / Sergeeva

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