WSIRN Ep 207: An all-you-can-read buffet

Spooky Books


This week’s guest is Jennifer Pai, a reader with a particular soft spot for anything that might be called spooky. Whether it’s thrilling suspense, witchy fantasy, or outright horror, she’s here for it.

In today’s episode we’re chatting about atmospheric reads, sleeper hits, gleefully enjoying books other people hate, and I’m matching her with perfect October reads to pair with a comfy blanket and mug of hot cider. 

Let’s get to it!

What Should I Read Next #207: An all-you-can-read buffet with Jennifer Pai

Click here to read the full episode transcription (opens in a new tab).

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Books mentioned in this episode:

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Books mentioned:

The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
50 Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman
I Am, I Am, I Am, by Maggie O’Farrell
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
The Lottery and Other Stories, by Shirley Jackson
The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
Jamaica Inn, by Daphne du Maurier
The Birds and Other Stories, by Daphne du Maurier
A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah E. Harkness
The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield
The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton
The Gown, by Jennifer Robson
The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James

Also mentioned: 
● The Walking Dead TV show


What do YOU think Jennifer should read next?
Tell us all about your favorite spooky October reads in the comments!


Leave A Comment
  1. Jennifer, you and I have very similar taste, and I loved this episode!

    I’ve got two recommendations for you. On the witchy side of things, ‘The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane’ by Katherine Howe. It’s got two timelines, a crumbling mansion, a little romance, lots of witchery, and it set in contemporary Salem, MA. The follow-up novel ‘The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs’ just fame out.

    And for a sort of dark fairytale set in an isolated mansion, I loved The Governesses by Anne Serre. It’s a slim book, more of a novella, and it’s super weird and unsettling and gripping.

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you! I have read “Deliverance Dane” and I loved it. I haven’t read the follow up so that is going on my list! “The Geovernesses” sound amazing!

  2. Carynne says:

    This isn’t a super scary book (I’m a pretty sensitive reader) but it is a ghost story and great for this season: The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller. Turn of the century romance + creepy old house + ghost hunting scientist. It was a fun, engaging, and well-written story.

    • Barbara Nelson says:

      Thank you. I listened to this episode while driving and came back tonight to check the title of the witch book and I *knew* it wasn’t discovery of witches. Great episode!

  3. Kelly says:

    I’m not one for horror very often, but hearing Jennifer talk about finding an old, out of the way book (maybe with a slightly off cover) and falling into it made me think of one of the only creepy novels I have enjoyed:

    The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

    A female author moves up from the South to an old farmhouse in Rhode Island to try to recover from her writer’s block and also a bad breakup with her girlfriend. On the edge of a property is a massive tree and in the house is a typewriter with the unfinished manuscript documenting the previous tenant’s mounting obsession with the tree and its role in a string of local superstitions and horrors.

    Encroaching, atmospheric, disorienting, and raw are some of the words that spring to mind when I remember it. Happy reading!

  4. Tammy says:

    It sounds like you might already be pretty familiar with Neil Gaiman, but he has two books that I think you might enjoy:
    The Ocean at the End of the Lane – A man returns to his childhood home and reminisces about his experiences with some magical women and a girl that live down the road.

    The Graveyard Book – A story about a boy that is raised by the ghosts, vampires, etc that live in a graveyard.

    • Carrie says:

      I really enjoyed this episode and was also going to recommend Neil Gaiman for Jennifer. I second both of Tammy’s suggestions and would add Gaiman’s Neverwhere for it’s atmosphere (and there’s a creepy fog!)

    • Jennifer says:

      I LOVE Neil Gaiman. Coraline is a favorite! I recently listened to “The Graveyard Book” on Audible read by Gaiman and I loved it! I need to check out some of his other things! Thank you for the recommendation!

  5. Caroline says:

    I absolutely love this episode! I too am a big fan of witches. I’m rushing right out to get The Witches of New York. That sounds fantastic. I have a recommendation which is witch-adjacent: Inamorata by Joseph Gangemi. This novel is set in the 1920s and is based on a true attempt by Scientific American to find definitive proof of paranormal abilities. The action involves a young investigator who falls in love with the medium he is investigating. Very entertaining and compelling.

  6. Lisa says:

    Hi Jennifer, I love your taste and this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to comment on an episode. I have a few suggestions that I wonder if you would like.
    The first is The Enchanted by Rene Denfield. This one is pretty bleak and dark, but so beautifully written and atmospheric. It takes place in a prison and is not a happy book, but I really enjoyed it and think you may as well.
    The next one I think you may like, since you said you like books set in the south. It’s called The Elementals by Michael McDowell. It’s a haunted house book that follows these 2 southern families in the summer in southern Alabama (I think that’s where they are). You just feel the heat when you read this book.
    You have likely read Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, but if not, I think you might like it. It’s one of my favorites. The writing is simply beautiful.
    The last suggestion is the one I’m least confident of, but it has that southern setting and is pretty atmospheric and has magic, so perhaps you’d like it. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. I think this is set in North Carolina, too, so you have probably at least heard of it. I thought it was an easy read that took me away.

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you for commenting! I am not a usual commenter and never thought I’d be on a podcast but here we are! I will check out “The Enchanted.” I listened to “The Elementals” earlier this year and loved it! I most recently listened to “Blackwater: The Complete Saga”by McDowell which is not pure horror but VERY suspenseful. Good call on McDowell! I am going to get more audiobooks by him!

  7. Elizabeth Wallen says:

    For some spooky, creepy and ghosty reads might I suggest The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, More Than You Know by Beth Gutcheon, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova ( it’s a big book) and oldie but goodie, Ghost Story by Peter Straub. This one was made into a pretty good movie starring Fred Astaire. I think I might try to find that movie and watch it again.

  8. Jenny says:

    LOVE that we all read different! When she spoke about The Notebook, I found myself yelling “Blasphemy!” Out loud. In the car. By myself. Then I laughed and laughed. Love to get others perspectives! Thanks for a great show.

  9. Laura says:

    What a fun guest! I enjoyed her thoughts on reading. Rebecca is good- also check out Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White for an eerie 1860 mystery. It’s not horrific, but definitely a bit spooky.

  10. Donna says:

    The facts are these 😉
    My husband and I loved Pushing Daisies, anything Tim Burton and TWD.

    I went through a bit of a Nicholas Sparks in my early 20s. I read A Walk to Remember in a day and sat in my room crying through the last few chapters and for half an hour after finishing.
    I must agree though on The Notebook as a novel. I hated it. However, I will say that I did love The Notebook movie and consider it one of the very VERY few movies that is actually better than the book. Although, that was before I was married. I watched it once with my husband and haven’t watched it in probably 10 years. I wonder if I’d feel differently now🤔

    • Jennifer says:

      Interesting! Usually when I like a book I can go back and read it after years and still like it, but movies tend not to hold up. I wonder if I go back and watch “The Notebook” if I might love it now???? Maybe I have softened in my old age…

  11. Jennifer, I loved this episode. I hope you get this message.

    I’m reading *The Lady from the Black Lagoon* by Mallory O’Meara, mentioned by Anne in this episode. It’s a biography of the creator of an iconic monster in the movie *The Creature from the Black Lagoon*. She was a woman who loved monsters. This book is written by a woman who loves monsters, and works on monster movies. So, I thought you might be interested.

    I also recommend the witchy book *Uprooted* by Naomi Novik It’s based on a European folk tale of Baba Yaga.

    I live in Arizona, so I understand the desire for cooler weather. I hope it soon gets cool enough for you to snuggle under the covers with a great book.

  12. Angela says:

    Jennifer, such as fun episode! While listening to it, I kept thinking, “She has to read Rebecca!” It is so good that it kept me on the elliptical reading it. Two other books with a similar feel are The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (trust me on this, the book has so much more to it than what you think). Also don’t forget about Edgar Allan Poe and HP Lovecraft.

    Also, I am right with you about the books of Nicholas Sparks- blech. I live in NC and still can’t stand them.

  13. Angie says:

    I imagine that you’ve already read everything by Stephen King, but just in case. . . I just finished Dolores Claiborne. One of Anne’s recent guests commented that this was his favorite audiobook ever. I don’t read King at all, but that recommendation persuaded me. I really liked it. It was atmospheric and spoke to the idea you mentioned about teenagers not being able empathize with characters who aren’t like them. At this stage of my life (way past the teenage years : ), I was drawn into Dolores’ character and the choices she made. It had a strong sense of time and place.

    Also, this is a “sleeper novel,” I think. You mentioned not liking love stories because love is built over decades. City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell is the story of a real marriage over decades. I read it several years ago and it made me reflect on how to create a marriage that will be healthy and strong for the long haul. It was beautiful but not sappy at all.

  14. Marilyn Keith says:

    Jennifer, this was a great podcast. So glad to finally hear someone speak of authors Jackson, duMaurier, Waters, etc. Another book suggestion is “The Witches of Eastwick” from the 1980s, I think Updike is the author, a contemporary take on witches. Delightful. And also Anne Rice (vampire novels), wrote a great series on a family of witches who lived in New Orleans. Think she wrote them in the 1990s, great descriptions, atmospheric. The Witches of Eastwick was made into a great movie, (Cher’s in it!), & Little Strangers was also made into an excellent movie. Woohoo!

  15. Lauren McHugh says:

    I saw this mentioned briefly, but I couldn’t help but think Elizabeth Kostova’s writing would be PERFECT for you. The Historian especially, but I also love her other two- The Swan Thieves & The Shadow Land. Very atmospheric but also borderline creepy and quite dark. But not gore dark- inner and outer evils dark. I love her!

    • Laura Salles Schwartz says:

      I loved The Historian and have had The Swan Thieves in my TBR for ages, without knowing if I should dive in after her amazing debut, I’m scared of being disappointed, but now that I see someone else that likes The Historian praise The Swan Thieves, I might have to move it up the list!

  16. Candy says:

    So many great books in this episode! As for slightly creepy short stories, please check out Roald Dahl – yes, of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame. He’s twisted like a chocolate covered pretzel!

  17. Marie says:

    Jennifer – So, I am also a big “Pushing Daisies” fan and “The Night Circus” was one of my favorite recent listens as well. First, a show recommendation – “Wonderfalls” was highly underrated and only 13 episodes produced, but also features Lee Pace and a similar zaniness (available on DVD). Because of this, I was actually thinking you might enjoy Tom Robbins – his books are descriptive and zany…would suggest “Another Roadside Attraction.” On the eerie side, just read “The Hazel Wood” from this podcast – about a teen girl who finds out she is part of a dark fairy tale world, and she is being mysteriously chased/followed, sort of fantasy combined with thriller/page turner. Also would suggest “Hard Boiled Wonderland” by Murakami – the only one of his I have enjoyed, very hard to describe but very funny and surreal, with a main secret agent character who alternates been contemporary Japan and a mysterious land where he is sorting through people’s dreams. Finally, your interests remind me of Zilpha Keatly Snyder, who I read voraciously in elementary school and have wanted to revisit – her books were about kids in mysterious/moody situations but never went too dark. Used to keep me up under my blanket, I remember. Favorites – “The Headless Cupid” and “The Egypt Game.”

  18. Laura Salles Schwartz says:

    Based on your episode, you have got to read “Rebecca”! It’s so wonderful!
    Others have recommended several I also really enjoyed (The Historian, And Then There were None, The Amityville Horror) so trying to come up with new titles.
    How about Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose”? I found it quite atmospheric.
    Or Stephen King’s “Lisey’s Story”. So creepy!
    “He Said/ She Said” by Erin Kelly was a very interesting read that kept me guessing!
    “The Breakdown” by B.A Paris was fun quick suspense!

  19. Jessie says:

    Great episode! I loved Rules Of Magic and Practical a Magic but less so. More like this with witches who snap their fingers and the house is cleaned? Thank you!!

  20. Susi says:

    Great episode! I feel like we could be book twins (or at least book sisters)!
    Since you seem to like books leaning to the Gothic literature style, I’d like to recommend the books by John Harwood. He’s an amazing writer of Gothic novels and a great storyteller.
    I suggest to start with his first novel “The Ghostwriter”, but really all of his novels are fascinating, fast-paced reads with twists and turns.

  21. Danielle says:

    Just a teeny-tiny English-teacher nit-picky note (sorry – I can’t help it – I teach this stuff 🙂 – “The Rocking Horse Winner” is by D.H. Lawrence, not Shirley Jackson. It is, however, a pretty creepy tale! I love, love, love teaching “The Lottery” – I always read it out loud to my students. Jackson is a master storyteller.

  22. Jessie Weaver says:

    Jennifer, this may be a stretch, but I am feeling like you would love the Raven Cycle books by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s a four book series (quatrology???) and some of the main characters are a group of women psychics. It feels like modern day witches. The stories are dark but funny in places, with great characters and a lot of weird stuff. The first book is The Raven Boys.

  23. Noelle says:

    This has made me rethink my aversion to horror fiction. Though I did love Shelley’s Frankenstein and the YA book A Monster Calls. I would suggest to you anything by Jaime Jo Wright, lots of dual-time creep and mystery– The House on Foster Hill or The Curse of Misty Wayfair. I think she even has a circus book coming up next!

  24. Ericka says:

    Not sure if you are still reading these comments, but I have to add that if you haven’t read it already, check out The Witching Hour by Anne Rice.

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