find your way around

read the post —

I love a good scary story. Not Stephen King scary, more like Shirley Jackson scary. Stephen King’s stories jump out at you and shriek in your face. Shirley Jackson’s stories creep up behind you and run a cold finger down your spine. In honor of Halloween, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite spooky reads. You won’t find much blood and gore in these books, but there are frights aplenty.

Spooky season is here. Time to curl up with a scary story while the wind howls outside and the neighborhood goblins roam the streets. Need some ideas for what to read this All Hallow’s Eve? Here are 13 stories old and new that are guaranteed to send a shiver up your spine.

Classic Scares

People, it seems, have always enjoyed being frightened, especially if they could do it while safely curled up at home under the blankets. These classic tales have stood the test of time and still pack a spooky punch.

#1 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving is probably my all-time favorite Halloween story. I read it at least once a year, preferably as the leaves start to turn. Irving was a master of creating a sense of place, and his descriptions of the misty environs of Sleepy Hollow and the warm glow of Baltus Van Tassel’s hearth make me wish I could step right into the story. As long as I could avoid the horseman, of course.

#2 The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s followup to The Scarlet Letter (another favorite of mine). With themes of guilt and retribution and a strong undercurrent of witchcraft and the supernatural, The House of the Seven Gables is a perfect read for a chilly October night. (Also check out the short story “Young Goodman Brown,” another spooky tale that’s perfect for Halloween.)

#3 The Woman in White

The Woman in White is a doorstopper of a Gothic masterpiece, widely considered to be the first psychological mystery. Whether or not that is the case, it is definitely an excellent example of Victorian writing, which can take an entire page to say what could have been said with a single sentence. The oppressive atmosphere and storyline involving insanity and identity theft make it an excellent choice for a Halloween read. The most frightening aspect of the story, for me at least, is the utter powerlessness of women during this era.

#4 The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill is quite possibly the most terrifying book I’ve ever read. It’s a slim little book, but it packs a punch. (And isn’t that cover just gorgeous?) I made the mistake of starting it at night. When I was home alone with the kids. I had to finish it during the daylight hours, and I will never look at a rocking chair the same way again. You’ve been warned.

#5 Hallowe’en Party

Hallowe’en Party is one of Agatha Christie’s later works, published in 1969, and has often been considered one of her less successful novels. However, it was one of the first of her novels I bought as a child, and I’ve always had a soft spot for it because of its Halloween setting. Be warned though, that some of the victims in this one are children (teenagers, actually, but still . . . ).

#6 We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Merricat, the central character of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is one of my favorite unreliable narrators. Shirley Jackson was a genius when it comes to creating an atmosphere of creeping unease, letting us know that something is slightly off without revealing what that something is until the end of the tale. We grow accustomed to seeing the world through Merricat’s eyes, so that when the truth is revealed, we feel wrong-footed while at the same time thinking, “of course that’s what happened.”

#7 The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House is right up there with The Woman in Black for scare factor, at least for me. The book bears little if any resemblance to the Netflix series. The book is much . . . quieter. Remember that sense of creeping dread? We feel it in Hill House, even though we aren’t really sure why, since nothing tangibly bad is happening. Nonetheless, this book contains one of the most frightening scenes I’ve ever read and is the reason I can never sleep with my hand hanging off the bed, for fear that I will feel another hand slip into it.

Contemporary Frights

Looking for something a little more modern? These scary tales were all written in the past few years and all but one feature a contemporary setting, reminding us that things that go bump in the night haven’t been banished in the internet age.

#8 The Invited

I just finished The Invited last week and I couldn’t put it down. I loved Jennifer McMahon’s earlier novel The Winter People, so I was looking forward to this one as well. It was so good. The story of an urban couple who buy a house in the country with a disturbing history, it is the perfect balance of creepy and mysterious, with a very satisfying ending.

#9 I Remember You

I Remember You was my first taste of Scandinavian author Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s work and it did not disappoint. It was utterly terrifying, almost more horror than mystery, and I found myself completely immersed in the story. The bleak setting combines with the ghost story to create a growing sense of dread that culminates in the shocking ending.

#10 Home Before Dark

Riley Sager is a new favorite author of mine. I have loved all of his books, but I think Home Before Dark might be my favorite. I’m always a sucker for a good ghost story. The main character, Maggie, returns to her childhood home to face her demons—in this case, literally. The house was the scene of an Amityville-type haunting that earned her family fame, fortune, and the ire of the locals. Maggie doesn’t remember it and thinks her father made it all up, but she’s about to find out otherwise.

#11 Mary Rose

Mary Rose is a retelling of a play by J.M. Barrie, a Gothic novel with threads of romance and the paranormal. Mary Rose is a woman who vanished as a child and mysteriously returned 30 days later. When her new husband finds out about the incident, he won’t rest until he finds out what really happened to her. Alfred Hitchcock badly wanted to make a movie from the original Barrie play, and I so wish he had. However, this super-creepy novel is very satisfying and will have to do.

Cover of The Unquiet Grave by Sharon McCrumb | Quill & Glass blog

#12 The Unquiet Grave

The Unquiet Grave is the latest in Sharyn McCrumb’s wonderful ballad series, in which she weaves elements from traditional murder ballads into the mystery narrative. The books in the series are incredibly well-researched and sprinkled with history and folklore. This one is based on the tale of the Greenbrier Ghost, a murder trial that featured a most unusual element—the testimony of a ghost. If you enjoy this one, check out some of the other ballad novels. My personal favorite is The Ballad of Frankie Silver.

#13 The Vanishing

Wendy Webb’s niche is big, old, haunted houses on the Great Lakes. I love a good ghost story, and her books always deliver. This was the first one I read and remains one of my favorites.

Julia Bishop has just been widowed and, thanks to her criminal of a husband, lost everything. So when a stranger shows up and offers her a job as caretaker for his mother, a novelist widely assumed to be dead, she jumps at the chance. In true Gothic fashion, she finds herself in a large, spooky house with people who seem at turns friendly and sinister. As she begins to unravel the truth behind why her charge chose to disappear, she also finds that she is more connected to the story than she realizes.

This book has some truly frightening moments and kept me on the edge of my seat. It’s one of those I don’t like to read after dark, or when I’m alone in the house. So of course it would be perfect to take along camping.

There you have it—13 spooky stories to keep you up late. What
are your favorite scary stories? Do you prefer blood and guts
scary or spooky, keep-you-looking-over-your-shoulder scary?
Let me know in the comments.

Want more spooky quotes? Check out this post.

read the post —

I’m a sucker for a locked-room mystery. Or an isolated-island mystery, in this case. It’s day 114 of quarantine here, and while nobody has been killed off yet, I’ll admit I’m starting to have a lot more sympathy for all those characters trapped in country houses, abandoned islands, and snowbound trains.

I’ve been looking forward to reading They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall since I first saw it mentioned last year. Little did I know that by the time I finally read it, I would be feeling the walls closing in on me as if I was the one stranded on a deserted island. Nonetheless, I was excited to finally get my hands on this book.

Miriam Macy has big plans for her week on a private island off the coast of Mexico. This is her chance to fix all her problems—the financial problems, the legal problems, the problems with her teenage daughter.

It was supposed to be a week in paradise, participating in a new reality show that must surely have a hefty cash prize waiting at the end. Instead, Miriam and her fellow travelers quickly find out that they’ve all been lured to the island under false pretenses. And before long, one of them is dead. Then another.

Miriam’s new plan is simple. Survive the week, escape the island, and get back home to her daughter.

If, like me, you’re a huge Agatha Christie fan, this probably sounds a little familiar.

And Then There Were None is one of my favorite Christie novels—one of the first I read as a child and probably the one I’ve reread the most. Howzell Hall makes it clear on the dedication page that this is her version of Christie’s novel:

While I’m all about cozy mysteries, I was intrigued by the idea of “something darker and American.” Howzell Hall delivered on her promise by bringing in issues relevant to today’s headlines—cyber bullying, police violence against people of color, a diverse cast. And it definitely has a darker feel. Which is kind of strange, when you think that Christie’s version included multiple murdered children as well as an unrepentant mass murderer, although those murders were firmly in the past and only alluded to. They All Fall Down feels grittier and more realistic.

I had quite a bit of fun as I read, picking out details she had carried over from Christie’s novel, a bit like hunting for Easter eggs in a Pixar movie. Starting with the title. Howzell Hall, like Christie, took her title from a children’s poem, although fortunately a much less offensive one. Then there is the boat ride to a forsaken island with other guests who have been invited under similarly false pretenses, a table with disappearing figurines, a female narrator whose character is repeatedly questioned by her male housemates, a gun that goes missing . . . there are lots of little nods to the original novel. I won’t list them all, especially since some would be spoilers, but see how many you can find!

While I enjoyed the book, especially at the beginning, I found that the further I read, the less likable I found the characters. I sympathized with the narrator in the beginning. I could feel the pain of the rift between her and her daughter, but found her less and less sympathetic as the story went on. While all of the characters in And Then There Were None are clearly bad people, I admit I always found myself hoping a bit that Vera would survive and change her ways. Maybe because her guilt seemed to haunt her so. With Miriam Macy, I just couldn’t seem to root for her in the same way. She seemed intent on putting the blame for her actions on others. I found most of the characters equally unlikable.

Overall, I do recommend the book. Just be forewarned if you are expecting a Christie-esque cozy, this is not one. It is, as the author promised, “something darker and American.”

Have you read They All Fall Down? How many details
from Christie’s novel did you find folded into the story?

read the post —

I don’t know about you, but since our quarantine went into effect (15 weeks ago, but who’s counting?), my days have started to run together. Our Mother’s Day cards were late because I mailed them on Friday, believing it was still Wednesday. I wish I was kidding.

Quarantine got you feeling like you’re trapped in the movie Groundhog Day? Then today’s book is just what you need. Or maybe not . . .

Since we already homeschooled, and because we aren’t exactly social butterflies during normal times, I didn’t expect life to change that much for us. In fact, I was excited about being told to stay home. It’s an introvert’s dream after all—cancel all the things. I was also convinced I was going to get So. Much. Done.

The reality of quarantine life has been a little different than I expected.

Sure, for the first few weeks it was novel. Home-cooked meals together every night! At the table, even! Playing board games, taking walks, learning to paint with watercolors, eating more Oreos in a matter of weeks than I have for the past five years combined . . . But after a few weeks (months? I’m not even sure anymore), the novelty wore off, and we began to lose all sense of reality.

Would you like to hazard a guess what tonight’s home-cooked meal will be? Grilled cheese sandwiches. Or possibly frozen pizza. Whichever it is, it will likely be eaten in the living room while we watch yet another Jurassic Park movie. My daughter has just discovered them and is obsessed. I had no idea there so many of them. These people really don’t learn, do they?

Sorry if I’m rambling, but I haven’t had much human contact outside this house lately, and I’m afraid it may be affecting my already questionable social skills.

All this is to say that if you are anything like me, feeling as if you’re trapped in the John Carpenter version of Groundhog Day, then you’ll feel right at home in Stuart Turton’s fictional world, and I’m honestly not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

In The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (for some reason called The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle outside the U.S.), the reader is dropped right into the action when the main character wakes to find himself lost in the woods and unsure of where he is or even who he is. This book hits the ground running and doesn’t let up—I was utterly confused for the first few chapters and yet I couldn’t put it down.

The premise is soon made clear—the main character, who we eventually find out is named Aiden Bishop, is trapped in a country house party at the ominously named Blackheath Manor and will be forced to live the same day over and over until he unmasks the murderer of Evelyn Hardcastle, the daughter of his hosts. That’s not a spoiler, by the way, it’s right there in the title. Evelyn Hardcastle is going to die. But at whose hand?

There are rules, however. Each day Aiden will find himself inhabiting the body of a different guest, some of whom are more helpful to him than others, and there is a ticking clock. If he doesn’t solve the murder soon enough, he could be trapped at Blackheath forever. Worse, it seems that he isn’t the only one playing this game, and his opponents will stop at nothing to win. A mysterious man in a beaked plague doctor mask, a sinister footman, and an ephemeral woman named Anna are only a few of the complications he will contend with as the hours slip away.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is an incredibly unique debut novel and therefore hard to categorize. It isn’t cozy, exactly. But it isn’t not cozy, either. Imagine if an Agatha Christie novel, Groundhog Day, and the 80s TV show Quantum Leap had a baby. It would be this novel. There is a definite country house mystery flavor to the story, complete with menacing atmosphere, crumbling manor, masked ball, dark forest, unsolved murder from the past, and secretive characters. But there is also a slightly disorienting feeling of being in both the past and the future simultaneously.

At 482 pages, this isn’t a quick read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I plan to go back and reread it now that I know the ending. There are quite a few characters and it took me a while to get them straight in my mind. Add in the time loop, and I found myself flipping back to check facts pretty often. Another reviewer mentioned that she actually took notes as she read—I wish I’d thought of that!

As I read through a second time, there is one particular fact I want to recheck, because during my first read-through, I thought I spotted a clue, but now I think maybe it was just an overlooked mistake.

Oh, and you know I love a good cover, so I can’t go without mentioning this one. Is it gorgeous or what? That Art Deco design and bold color combination caught my eye immediately.

Stuart Turton’s next book, The Devil and the Dark Water, is due out in October. It sounds as if it will be just as intriguing as his first one, and it’s definitely going on my TBR list.

Have you read The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle yet? If not, you
should! And while you’re reading, keep an eye out for gloves—or is it
socks?—drying over the fire. Was it a clue or just an overlooked mistake?

read the post —

I’ve been looking forward to the 6th installment of the Amory Ames mystery series, A Dangerous Engagement, since January. Ashley Weaver’s series about a British socialite and her dashing, if somewhat ne’er-do-well husband, is quite possibly my favorite ongoing mystery series.

Amory and her dashing husband Milo are back, and this time they are adding 1930s New York, complete with speakeasies and gangsters, to their detecting repertoire.

Weaver’s novels are classic mysteries in the style of the Golden Age, always with a high-society setting—seaside hotel, masked ball, country house, Paris, the theater, and now Prohibition-era New York—and peopled with a variety of suspicious characters, keeping me from figuring out whodunnit every time. The many period details she includes, from clothing to cars, create an engaging backdrop for her stories.

The book opens as Amory and Milo, with ladies’ maid Winnelda and valet Parks in tow, are steaming into harbor in New York. Amory is feeling a little worse for wear after a rough ocean voyage, but is looking forward to a relaxing time attending the wedding of her old friend, Tabitha Alden. Milo is unenthusiastic, to say the least, about attending a wedding where no alcohol will be served, but he has hopes for a little fun after the “dull business” is over. Unfortunately, that rough crossing was a pretty good indication of how the visit will go.

Amory’s excitement over being reunited with her childhood friend quickly turns to worry when she begins to suspect Tabitha is hiding something from her. And Tabitha isn’t the only character whose behavior is a bit shady. No one seems to know much about the groom, Tom, before he arrived in New York a few years earlier, and one of the groomsmen is reputed to have ties to a bootlegging operation. Even the father of bride is living suspiciously well for someone who lost a large part of his wealth in the stock market crash.

When one of the wedding party is shot dead on the front steps of the Alden home, Amory and Milo begin to feel as if they’ve wandered into an American gangster film. The police seem content to pin the murder on a low-level mob hitman, but Amory is convinced the crime was more personal. With Milo distracted by a new business opportunity, she seizes the chance to infiltrate the seedy world of jazz clubs and bootleggers in search of answers, despite Milo’s attempts to discourage her investigation.

If you haven’t read the rest of the series, don’t worry—you’ll be able to follow the story—but reading the whole series definitely makes for a richer experience. The evolving relationship between Amory and Milo is a big part of the appeal of these books, and reading them in order will help you appreciate that aspect. I’m excited to see where their relationship is going, especially after the revelation at the end of this installment.

On a totally unrelated note, I absolutely love the cover design of this series. I know, I know. Don’t judge a book by its cover and all that. But, really, we all know that’s exactly what we do, and these covers really do catch my eye.

Update • I recently read the newest installment A Deception at Thornecrest and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I’ve added it to the links below. So far the series is holding up well, and I look forward to the next book. I’ve also read the first in her new series, A Peculiar Combination, featuring a safecracker and a government agent and set during World War II. I highly recommend it as well. Weaver does a good job at blending mystery and romance, and this new series is very promising.

In a recent interview, Ashley Weaver mentioned that Milo is a very
polarizing character—people either love him or hate him. In fact, one
reader expressed hope that the next murder Amory investigates
will be Milo’s! What do you think? Are you team Milo or do you think
Amory should move on? I have to admit, I’m team Milo all the way.

read the post —

What comes to mind when you hear the word “cozy”? Is it a cup of tea? A rainy day? A roaring fire? A favorite sweater? Jury duty? (Bear with me here . . . )

For the past few years, cozy has been trending everywhere you look. It started with the Danes and their hygge and has taken the internet by storm. And it’s no wonder. In a world that feels increasingly unsettled, we are all looking for the comfort that cozy things have to offer. But Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World takes the concept a bit further. Author Isabel Gillies delves deep into what cozy really means, and some of her answers might surprise you.

In sections titled You, Home, Neck of the Woods, Journey, When It Feels Hard, and Recipes, Gillies considers various aspects of cozy. And while she does include things you might expect, like rainy days, candles, and warm soup, she also suggests that there is coziness to be found in jury duty and hospital rooms.

While I’m not so sure she’s convinced me about jury duty, she did get me thinking about coziness in hospitals. My oldest was born with a cleft palate and had his first surgery at 11 months. Cozy is not the word I would have chosen to describe that hospital stay at the time. But looking back, some of the things I remember most are the three of us together in one dimly lit room, the sound of hushed voices and footsteps of nurses going by at night, the little room down the hall that was stocked with all kinds of soft foods and little rubber spoons to feed him with, and curling up with him in the giant hospital crib because he wouldn’t sleep in it alone. So, there was coziness of a sort.

Gillies goes on to say that while cozy means something different to each of us, all human beings instinctively desire it, and while coziness can come from physical comfort and warmth, it also stems from feelings of belonging and security. The things that make us feel cozy help us to cope in times of uncertainty and difficulty. She makes a very effective example of refugees in camps who add personal touches to their spaces. No matter where we are or what circumstances we find ourselves in, we are innately wired to make the place we call home, however temporarily, a little more cozy.

Looking for some cozy inspiration? Check out my Cozy board on Pinterest!

Photos of cozy chair and blanket beside a window | Quill & Glass blog

Reading this book got me thinking about what I think of as cozy. While I agreed with several of Gillies’ suggestions, there were others that didn’t seem cozy to me at all. It’s fascinating how different our ideas of cozy can be. I started my own cozy list, and so far it has 80 entries. Eighty!

At just 12 years old, my daughter is a master of cozy. She loves Christmas lights, warm drinks, and fuzzy blankets. When it starts to cloud up and thunder in the afternoon, and we’ve finished school and have nowhere else to go for the day, she immediately starts lighting candles, hoping for a power outage, begging for a pot of tea, and insisting we all sit around the coffee table and play Clue. It doesn’t get much cozier than that.

If you’re a lover of all things cozy, check out Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World. Because it’s divided into short chapters, it’s easy to pick up whenever you have a few minutes. I read it at bedtime each night and found it a perfect way to wind down and relax at the end of the day.

What are some things that make you feel cozy?
Comment and let me know. Does jury duty make your list?

Fueled by equal parts sweet tea and passion, I spend my days capturing the kinds of images that make you stop, smile and ask time to please slow down. 

Your story, your love, is beautiful and I can’t wait to capture it in images you will treasure for years to come. I believe in real moments and heartfelt conversations on the front porch. In the kinds of images that remind you of the joy that can be found in the simplest of moments together. 

mystery writer & editor

I’m Amanda

Get to know me

hello there!

Praesent leo risus, sodales sed fermentum vitae, ornare ut metus. Maecenas ornare pellentesque metus a commodo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse sed nibh non nisl finibus imperdiet. 

Writing Routine

free printable

send me the tracker

pssst - 
it's free!