Authors as Magicians: 8 Books That’ll Cast a Spell on You

Sara Roncero-Menendez
October 15 2021
Share Authors as Magicians: 8 Books That’ll Cast a Spell on You

Temperatures are dropping, leaves are slowly changing their hue, and there’s that sense of magic in the air that comes with autumn. It’s the kind of atmosphere that begs you to go to a bookstore and search among the volumes for an equally magical experience. If you’re looking for a little (or a lot of) inspiration, here are eight books that are sure to cast their spell on you.

The Magician
by Colm Toibin

Spell: Uncover hidden depths

The twists and turns of life can be mysterious, surprising, even daunting. For Thomas Mann, the Nobel Prize–winning author and subject of THE MAGICIAN, it’s often all three at the same time. Mann’s world is a whirlwind of a story: a closeted gay man, he marries into a prominent Jewish family and writes critically acclaimed novels that make him a literary celebrity, all while leading a private life. As the Third Reich rises to power, the elusive Mann finds himself leaving his home for foreign shores as his children front resistance movements. Filled with gorgeous prose and deeply flawed characters, Colm Tóibín fleshes out a truly engaging, if enigmatic, portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated novelists.

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The Magician
Colm Toibin

From one of today’s most brilliant and beloved novelists, a dazzling, epic family saga set across a half-century spanning World War I, the rise of Hitler, World War II, and the Cold War.

Colm Tóibín’s magnificent new novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and marries the daughter Katia. They have six children. On a holiday in Italy, he longs for a boy he sees on a beach and writes the story Death in Venice. He is the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a public man whose private life remains secret. He is expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler, whom he underestimates. His oldest daughter and son, leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement, share lovers. He flees Germany for Switzerland, France and, ultimately, America, living first in Princeton and then in Los Angeles.

In a stunning marriage of research and imagination, Tóibín explores the heart and mind of a writer whose gift is unparalleled and whose life is driven by a need to belong and the anguish of illicit desire. The Magician is an intimate, astonishingly complex portrait of Mann, his magnificent and complex wife Katia, and the times in which they lived—the first world war, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile. This is a man and a family fiercely engaged by the world, profoundly flawed, and unforgettable. As People magazine said about The Master, “It’s a delicate, mysterious process, this act of creation, fraught with psychological tension, and Tóibín captures it beautifully.”

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You Me Everything
by Catherine Isaac

Spell: Lights up the darkness

Family is one of the most important things in life, something Jess knows well. When she and her 10-year-old William head to France, she has one goal in mind: to get her ex-boyfriend, and William’s father, Adam to be involved in his child’s life. Adam’s done well for himself, building up a hotel, but he’s a tad unreliable, preferring to spend time with other women than his son. But as the summer drags on, hope for this small and unusual family blooms. YOU ME EVERYTHING crafts a heart-wrenching story of love and the ties that bind us that will fill you with light in even the darkest of times.

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You Me Everything
Catherine Isaac

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The Duration
by Dave Fromm

Spell: Take you back to childhood

They say you can never go back home—Pete Johansson wishes that were true. Instead, the Boston lawyer gets pulled back to his home of Gable, a western Massachusetts town filled with ghosts, and into the orbit of his reckless best friend, Chickie. Chickie crafts a plan to steal a coveted rhino horn from a local upscale spa and drags Pete into the mess. But more than just a story of a juvenile prank pulled by two grown men, THE DURATION digs deep into the friendship of the main characters, examining the intricacies and pitfalls of growing up and apart.

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The Duration
Dave Fromm

"Fromm's haunting tale of adults testing the bonds of youthful friendships is full of hard-won wit and unexpected humor." --Jim Ruland, author of Forest of Fortune

It's been 100 years since tragedy struck the rolling woods around Fleur-de-Lys, one of dozens of Gilded Age estates dotting the western Massachusetts town of Gable. In Gable, they both begrudge and venerate their past, and even now that health spas and corporate yoga retreats have replaced the mansions of a bygone era, the ghosts of yesteryear linger. Growing up there means navigating those ghosts, and the even more pernicious pitfalls of adolescence, until you're lucky enough to find your footing. Unless you're not.

In The Duration, Boston attorney Pete Johansson finds himself reuniting in Gable with his troubled childhood pal Chickie, who has returned to the wintry town of their youth determined to solve past mysteries and right the wrongs he can't seem to shake. Despite--or because of--his best intentions, Pete is drawn reluctantly into Chick's reckless orbit, straining a bedrock friendship and putting them both at risk.

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The Gates
by John Connolly

Spell: Give you strength to take on anything

If you’ve ever been up against something you felt was too big to tackle, then you’ve been in the same boat as young Samuel Johnson. Well, sort of, given that this kid is literally up against all the forces of darkness. When the gates of Hell appear in his small town, Samuel, his dachshund Boswell, and a whole host of quirky characters will have to come together to make sure the community isn’t torn asunder by the incoming chaos. The start of a paranormal adventure like no other, THE GATES will have you rooting for the underdog in a matchup of good versus evil, and maybe even inspire a little faith in yourself as well.

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The Gates
John Connolly

Bursting with imagination and impossible to put down, this “wholly original” (People) and “refreshing” (San Francisco Chronicle) novel from New York Times bestselling author John Connolly is about the pull between good and evil, physics and fantasy—and a quirky boy, who is impossible not to love, and the unlikely cast of characters who give him the strength to stand up to a demonic power.

Young Samuel Johnson and his dachshund, Boswell, are trying to show initiative by trick-or-treating a full three days before Halloween, which is how they come to witness strange goings-on at 666 Crowley Road. The Abernathys don't mean any harm by their flirtation with the underworld, but when they unknowingly call forth Satan himself, they create a gap in the universe, a gap through which a pair of enormous gates is visible. The gates to Hell. And there are some pretty terrifying beings just itching to get out...

Can one small boy defeat evil? Can he harness the power of science, faith, and love to save the world as we know it?

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The Woman of a Thousand Names
by Alexandra Lapierre

Spell: Makes history come alive

If history teaches us anything, it’s that the world is never as stable as we think it is. Moura’s wealthy life in Russia seems like a party that will never end, until the Bolshevik Revolution turns everything upside down. She learns to adapt, taking on a British spy as a lover and changing her identity as often as she needs to in order to survive. But will those deceits land her in prison, or worse? Or will she find a way to prevail at every turn? THE WOMAN OF A THOUSAND NAMES is a suspenseful spy thriller that will get your heart racing, making this dark and dangerous period in history feel closer than ever before.

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The Woman of a Thousand Names
Alexandra Lapierre

From the internationally bestselling author of the “fascinating epic” (Associated Press) Between Love and Honor comes a rich, sweeping tale based on the captivating true story of the Mata Hari of Russia, featuring a beautiful aristocrat fighting for survival during the deadly upheaval of the Russian Revolution.

Born into Russian aristocracy, wealth, and security, Moura never had any reason to worry. But in the upheaval of the Bolshevik Revolution, her entire world crumbles. As her family and friends are being persecuted by Vladimir Lenin’s ruthless police, she falls into a passionate affair with British secret agent Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart. But when he’s abruptly and mysteriously deported from Russia, Moura is left alone and vulnerable.

Now, she must find new paths for her survival, even if it means shedding her past and taking on new identities. Some will praise her tenderness and undying loyalty. Others will denounce her lies. But all will agree on one point: Moura embodies Life. Life at all cost.

Set against the volatile landscape of 20th-century Russia, The Woman of a Thousand Names brings history to vivid life in a captivating tale about an extraordinary woman caught in the waves of change—with only her wits to save her.

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Forty Acres
by Dwayne Alexander Smith

Spell: Time travel

Have you ever started a book, closed the back cover, and realized a whole day has gone by? That’s the time-traveling magic of a good book, and no novel is as sure to make those hours fly by as FORTY ACRES. Martin Grey’s life as a Black lawyer in New York City is great, including the esteemed colleagues with whom he’s headed out of town for a weekend of just the guys. However, when he arrives, he finds this elite group of men are involved in a dark and dangerous secret: they are part of a clandestine society that preserves slavery, but with the Black men serving as “masters.” With a premise this intense, you won’t be able to put it down until the very last page.

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Forty Acres
Dwayne Alexander Smith

“A thriller in a class by itselfbrilliant and scary!” Terry McMillan

Read the page-turning, provocative thriller that will forever change the way you think about slavery and its legacy in today’s America.

Martin Grey, a smart, talented black lawyer working out of a storefront in Queens, becomes friendly with a group of some of the most powerful, wealthy, and esteemed black men in America. He’s dazzled by what they’ve accomplished, and they seem to think he has the potential to be as successful as they are. They invite him for a weekend away from it all—no wives, no cell phones, no talk of business. But far from home and cut off from everyone he loves, he discovers a disturbing secret that challenges some of his deepest convictions…

Martin finds out that his glittering new friends are part of a secret society dedicated to the preservation of the institution of slavery—but this time around, the black men are called “Master.” Joining them seems to guarantee a future without limits; rebuking them almost certainly guarantees his death. Trapped inside a picture-perfect, make-believe world that is home to a frightening reality, Martin must find a way out that will allow him to stay alive without becoming the very thing he hates.

A novel of rage and compassion, good and evil, trust and betrayal, Forty Acres is the thought-provoking story of one man’s desperate attempt to escape the clutches of a terrifying new moral order.

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Light Perpetual
by Francis Spufford

Spell: Brings the dead back to life

When tragedy strikes, it’s inevitable that we ponder that unanswerable question: What if it never happened? Francis Spofford’s LIGHT PERPETUAL crafts its own response by imagining the lives of five children who died in a historic explosion. The book explores the long and winding stories of Jo, Alec, Val, Vernon, and Ben, all of whom live past that fateful day in 1944 to have jobs and children of their own. This moving portrayal of played-out potential is not only a study of the decades following the tragedy and what might have been, but of the intricacy and extensiveness of human connection.

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Light Perpetual
Francis Spufford

From the critically acclaimed and award‑winning author of Golden Hill, a mesmerizing and boldly inventive novel tracing the infinite possibilities of five lives in the bustling neighborhoods of 20th-century London.

Lunchtime on a Saturday, 1944: the Woolworths on Bexford High Street in southeast London receives a delivery of aluminum saucepans. A crowd gathers to see the first new metal in ages—after all, everything’s been melted down for the war effort. An instant later, the crowd is gone; incinerated. Among the shoppers were five young children.

Who were they? What futures did they lose? This brilliantly constructed novel lets an alternative reel of time run, imagining the life arcs of these five souls as they live through the extraordinary, unimaginable changes of the bustling immensity of twentieth-century London. Their intimate everyday dramas, as sons and daughters, spouses, parents, grandparents; as the separated, the remarried, the bereaved. Through decades of social, sexual, and technological transformation, as bus conductors and landlords, as swindlers and teachers, patients and inmates. Days of personal triumphs, disasters; of second chances and redemption.

Ingenious and profound, full of warmth and beauty, Light Perpetual illuminates the shapes of experience, the extraordinariness of the ordinary, the mysteries of memory and expectation, and the preciousness of life.

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Strange Weather in Tokyo
by Hiromi Kawakami

Spell: Create chance encounters

Tsukiko’s used to drinking alone at the bar after a long day of work, but one day she ends up running into her old high school teacher. Soon, the two develop a routine of meeting up, enjoying each other’s company in a way that Tsukiko doesn’t find with her peers. But as she continues to fumble with dating and what she wants out of life, she realizes there might be more to their relationship than she thought. While STRANGE WEATHER IN TOKYO might seem like your typical May-December romance, the genuine kindness and joy of these two characters’ journeys is enough to make any cynic believe in fate.

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Strange Weather in Tokyo
Hiromi Kawakami

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Author Picks: 6 Literary Quotes That Stuck with Me

By Ash Davidson | November 29, 2021

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Staff Picks: 5 Books We’re Extra Thankful For This Year

By Off the Shelf Staff | November 18, 2021

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Photo credit: iStock / tomertu

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