Written by: Andrea Marks-Joseph
As the weather cools and we spend more time wrapped up indoors, we look to our books for the captivating adventures we can’t have. I believe a good fireplace read is highly atmospheric, compelling, and something you’ll want to talk to all your friends about. The novels in this list would be perfect to read with friends, or start a family book club around. They’re also all potential, “Y’all go on and start dinner without me, I need to find out what happens first” books. You’ve been warned!
If you want to sit in front of your fireplace at the edge of your seat, we have murder mysteries, domestic suspense, and international art heists for you. Looking to travel the world from your couch? We’re taking you jet-setting all around the world with these books! For those of us simply trying to soak up the Fall vibes, we’ve got a mysterious magical mansion, satirical dark academia, and spooky nature documentary happenings that come to life in what may be the apocalypse. If Fall to you means comfort and warmth, we’ve got the guide to achieving that coziness, and two of the most wonderful romances –one royal, one filled with pets!
1. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
A quiet family vacation goes profoundly wrong when a weekend of leisure turns into an apocalyptic crisis they’re forced to share with another family.
Imagine you’ve rented a luxurious home for your family vacation, only to be interrupted late one night by the owners returning, asking to come in and stay with you. They’re panicked, reporting that there’s been a citywide blackout with no news about why. In the rural location, it’s hard to know if that’s true, but then more suspicious things keep happening. Leave the World Behind is simultaneously a socio-political commentary on wealth, leisure and family life, and a contemporary apocalyptic trance.
Alam’s writing is impeccable; brilliant, sharply observant, and witty. The storyline –equal parts ‘Are we being scammed?’, ‘Are we in danger?’ and ‘Is the world ending right now?’– will make you gasp and wonder out loud what you would do in that situation. Throughout the novel, you’ll contemplate who you would trust, and how far that trust would take you.
Editor Note: "Leave the World Behind" is currently being adapted as a Netflix Movie with Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts
2. Academy Gothic by James Tate Hill
A snarky, legally blind college lecturer vows to solve the dean’s murder in order to save his job.
If you love murder mysteries, stories set in academic situations, and snarky protagonists with a dark sense of humour, this is the perfect book for you. Initially, the protagonist strikes a deal that he won’t be fired if he can solve the murder of the college dean, but as he dives deeper into the suspicious circumstances, the situation grows more dangerous.
Academy Gothic is told through an amusing narrative voice, totally captivating storyline (the end of every chapter makes it impossible to put the book down), and an eclectic faculty who serve as nuisances and suspects in the lead character’s investigation. The novel comments on the failings of academic institutions (If you enjoyed Sandra Oh’s Netflix show ‘The Chair’, you’ll love this!) and brilliantly explores the nuances, inconveniences, and intricacies of living as a legally blind person (the author writes from personal experience).
3. Better Than People by Roan Parrish
Jack hires Simon to walk his dogs while he’s injured –and the two men fall in love!
This is a truly hopeful love story that explores anxiety, grief, and following your heart. It’s set mostly inside Jack’s home, where he often sits by a fireplace of his own with his dogs by side. This novel follows Jack, a grumpy children’s book illustrator, and Simon, a socially anxious graphic designer who prefers animals to people. When Jack breaks his leg, he needs to hire someone to walk his many pets. He meets Simon on a pet-share app. The two men get to know each other over the course of time as Jack’s leg is healing, and fall in love in the process!
Better than People is a wonderful romance that features nature walks, a whole parade of animals (including a cat who joins the dogs for walks, and a surprise puppy!), and a supportive grandma who uses baking lessons to play matchmaker.
4.The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Deirdre Mask
Travel the world to learn the stories behind street names and the people’s lives they’ve changed forever.
This is a great book for the family to read together, and I highly recommend the audiobook to do so. The Address Book is deeply interesting, educational, and tells stories from all over the world. You’ll hear about the many streets named after Martin Luther King Jr., there’s a chapter about rude street names, and several which discuss the role of addresses considering significant global and political events. Through reading this book, you’ll come to understand the implications both profound and hilarious of having or not having addresses for millions of people— including those who live in the slums of Kolkata in India, and those on the streets of London.
Filled with fascinating people and unforgettable family histories –and told with the accessible wisdom and charm of your favourite aunt come to visit– Mask brings to life a topic you may never have considered before. The Address Book will inspire insightful conversation and add many once-unheard-of cities to your travel bucket list.
5. Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
Anything’s possible in this magical mansion which offers Jane alternate realities to choose from!
If you’re looking to escape into a story, this is a really fun one to dive into. Jane, Unlimited is the reason I understand the multiverse theory! When her magnificent, adventurous aunt Magnolia dies, Jane is left feeling directionless. Then a glamorous acquaintance suddenly invites her to an extravagant island mansion called Tu Reviens. Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.”
Set mostly inside this mansion, Jane, Unlimited tells a kaleidoscope of stories as Jane leaps through alternate realities where the same group of people offer various possibilities for her life (each of which come with a price). Through exploring these intriguing realities, she uncovers family mysteries while also designing and creating spectacular umbrellas!
6. The Man in the Black Suit by Sylvain Reynard
A gripping romantic suspense novel of art heists, suave mystery men, and a brilliant woman who finds herself at the centre of it all.
Acacia Santos is a chic, remarkable Brazilian woman who works as a concierge at a prestigious hotel in Paris, until recognizing stolen artwork in a guest’s suite leads her to a passionate romance and a thrilling adventure. She suddenly finds herself involved in a suspenseful world of high-stakes international art heists.
The Man in the Black Suit takes Acacia jet-setting to elite destinations (Paris, Dubai, Santorini!) where her intellect and insight into the art world proves both impressive and seductive. While traveling, she faces political intrigue and is forced to confront a family history she’s worked to escape. The intoxicating story takes surprising twists, and places importance on achieving justice through creative, though questionable, methods.
7. Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World by Isabel Gillies
Notice what makes you feel warm and cozy, and make it happen in your life every day.
You could flip to any chapter of this book and feel enveloped by the coziness of it. Each page is filled with lists of things which comfort and soothe the author (hand drawn illustrations, a steaming cup of tea, family recipes) and vividly paints the picture of what calm and contentment is possible in our own lives. It’s a really sweet collection of goodness; something Gillies has clearly taken time to compile with love.
With an overall aura of calm, the author uses this book “—part manifesto, part lifestyle guide, part memoir—” to suggest that we consider seeking delight in the smallest moments to be an act of self-care. It’s an accessible, warm guide gently ushering us towards a life built around noticing what brings us coziness. More personal than instructional, Cozy is a love letter to making a place for yourself that allows for enjoying your life in every moment.
8. The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert
What happens when you’re caught kissing a stranger, and he turns out to be a prince who’s ready to whisk you away to his palace?
If your Fall weekends are going to be filled with classic rom-coms, this is the novel for you. Talia Hibbert writes romance like no one else; Her novels are funny, feminist, and they put opinionated Black women at the centre. The Princess Trap is what happens when Cherry –thirty, flirty, and done with men– is caught by paparazzi while kissing a stranger in an alleyway. She’s shocked to discover he’s a prince, and unimpressed with his proposal to fake an engagement and take her to live in his palace. It’s a sweeping romance filled with realness, relationship drama, and a royal happily ever after!
Andrea Marks-Joseph is a South African freelance writer and book reviewer. She can be found on Twitter @stargirlriots and at stargirlriots.com