A look at what’s steaming up the shelves this month.
Spooky season is upon us — but when it comes to romance fiction, not everything that goes “bump” in the night is a ghost. (Wink, wink.) Here are a few novels keeping me up late this month. Happy reading!
Alicia Thompson blends true crime with true love in her quirky Love in the Time of Serial Killers (Berkley). It’s been six months since her father died, and Phoebe Walsh is spending the summer in Florida helping her younger brother empty out their childhood home. She’s also working on her dissertation about her favorite subject: true crime. Phoebe knows so much about the genre, in fact, that her senses are on high alert when she meets her new neighbor, Sam Dennings.
Sure, Sam seems like a nice enough guy with his charming good humor and generous offers of help, but Phoebe knows that’s how serial killers operate. She has no intention of being lured into a psycho’s lair (no matter how good looking he might be) and plans to keep an eye on her shady neighbor and his middle-of-the-night activities. Of course, the more time they spend together, the more Phoebe realizes the truth is even more horrifying than she realized: Sam is a genuinely nice guy, and she might be falling for him.
In between encyclopedic serial-killer trivia and bantering with Sam, Phoebe is making peace with her past and a father she hardly knew, while also connecting with her brother for the first time in their adult lives. Thompson’s clever premise is a trendy hook for a romance that explores family, grief, and the relationships that define us.
Following her 2021 New York Times bestseller, The Ex Hex, Erin Sterling takes readers back to a magical town in Georgia for another paranormal adventure in The Kiss Curse (Avon). Gwyn Jones, her mother, Elaine, and her cousin Vivi are a trio of witches whose powerful magic keeps Graves Glen humming along. While Elaine is off on a retreat in Arizona and Vivi is on her honeymoon in Wales, Gwyn is left to hold down the fort while she runs the family’s neighborhood sorcery shop, Something Wicked. Everything is going swimmingly until Wells Penhallow walks back into her life.
The Penhallows are also a family of witches with deep connections to Graves Glen. Wells is the elder brother of Vivi’s husband, Rhys, but while Rhys was the family screw-up, Wells has always been the dutiful, responsible son. At his father’s behest, he has come to Graves Glen to strengthen his family’s ties to the place — but he’d also like to start a new life away from his overbearing parent. His history with Gwyn dates back to the brief time he attended Penhaven College, and Gwyn still harbors some serious animosity toward him.
When a new coven shows up and Gwyn’s magic seems to wane, the two business rivals have to put their differences aside to protect the town that means so much to both their families. Magic and mayhem ensue, along with plenty of steamy kisses and romantic hijinks, as Gwyn and Wells try to figure out if their attraction is some sort of magical glitch or the real deal. Readers who loved The Ex Hex will enjoy revisiting Graves Glen and its cast of witchy characters — including the magical feline, Sir Purrcival.
Celestine Martin’s delightful Witchful Thinking (Forever) introduces readers to the magical residents of Freya Grove, New Jersey. Lucy Caraway is a high school teacher by day and a witch 24/7. She has a perfectly nice (if rather dull) life, but she’s always wishing for more. With her high school reunion looming, Lucy writes about the life she wishes she had and manifests her longing into a powerful spell. Suddenly, she’s the best version of herself, the life of the party doing all the things she’s always dreamed about. But you know what they say: Be careful what you wish for…
Things get complicated when her old crush, Alexander Dwyer, asks for her help in unjinxing the house his parents have given him. Like everyone else in town, Alex has his own kind of magic — he’s a merman. He’s also spent the past 10 years traveling and experiencing all the adventures Lucy longs to have. Despite his newfound interest in her, Lucy knows being around Alex can only lead to heartbreak. He’s made it clear he’ll be swimming off into the sunset as soon as he can unload his hexed house.
Lucy understands she must unravel her magic screw-up and set things right. But what if Alex’s interest in her is only spell-deep? Witchful Thinking is a charming treat that will leave readers pondering their own long-held wishes…and how best to make them come true.
I couldn’t let this month slide by without highlighting one of my favorite books of 2022: Liz Parker’s In the Shadow Garden (Forever). This atmospheric, multigenerational tale is set in the small town of Yarrow, Kentucky, and centers on the Haywood and Bonner families.
For centuries, the women of the Haywood family have tended to the town’s residents by transferring their pain to the soil of their enchanted shadow garden. It’s a symbiotic relationship; the garden absorbs the many sorrows and transforms them into a bounty of magic-infused herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. The more sadness the garden is given, the more it thrives. But Addison Haywood doesn’t have the same gift as the other women in her family, and she fears what that means for the garden.
Bonner bourbon helped put Yarrow on the map, and the Bonner family’s corn crops were started with seeds from the Haywoods’ shadow garden — seeds that give the bourbon an irresistible supernatural kick. While the Haywoods’ magic can only ease suffering, not take it away, Bonner bourbon has the power to make folks forget their most traumatic experiences entirely. At the annual bourbon festival, residents offer up their worst memories of the year to be forgotten. Many consider it a gift to be able to forget their pain — but why would everyone choose to forget the entire summer of 1997?
There is a lovely second-chance romance threaded throughout In the Shadow Garden, but this is not a story about love and lust. (Well, not entirely.) It’s a captivating tale about familial bonds, the power of memory, the traditions of gardening and distilling, the magic of everyday life, and the enduring power of love — all kinds of love. It’s perfect for fans of Practical Magic.
Kristina Wright lives in Virginia with her husband, their two sons, a dog, a cat, and a parrot. She’s a regular contributor at BookBub and a lifelong fan of romance fiction. Find her on Twitter at @kristinawright or on Bookshop, where she features other book recommendations.