Six Dark and Cozy Vintage Reads

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In the mood for dark and cozy books to read this fall? These 6 vintage reads perfectly fit the bill for something a little spooky and sinister, without being full-blown horror. Cozy meets dark for the perfect reading list for autumn and winter nights.

Black and white photograph of woman reading a book, with a cat next to her, and the words "6 Dark and Cozy Books" superimposed on top.

Guest post by Michelle Quinn

When the weather turns cold and the days grow shorter, I look for a great dark cozy vintage book to read in front of the fire with a cup of tea. Since I’m not a lover of true horror, none of these six books are terribly scary. Most are creepy while others are more disturbing. Many of them have been forgotten as time has gone on, as well. So pull your chair up closer to the fire and see which of these books will be your next cozy dark read: 

Dark and Cozy Books That Are Perfect for Fall Reading

1. The Juniper Tree by Barbara Comyns

Based on a grisly Grimm’s tale of the same name, Barbara Comyns’ version is told by Bella, a great example of a Comyns heroine–a young woman who has suffered a lot in her young life but is very resilient and almost detached about it all. Bella is a homeless single mother at the outset of the novel. She meets a wealthy couple and her life changes. ⁠

⁠If you enjoy dark books and haven’t read Barbara Comyns, what are you waiting for? I just love Comyns’ writing style–it feels very off-kilter. She goes into detail about mundane things and then seems to skip over ominous details. This isn’t a fever dream type of narration–it is told simply and directly, and this odd fairytale quality builds to a horrifying climax.

2. Vera by Elizabeth Von Arnim

If you like dark books about a large imposing house, a mysteriously dead first wife, a naïve waif of a second wife and a narcissistic sociopath for a husband…have I got a book for you! ⁠⁠Written in 1921 and pre-dating Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca by ten years, Vera follows twenty-two-year-old Lucy who is sweet and delicate. She lived happily with her father until the day he suddenly died.

Reeling with tremendous grief, she meets Everard Wemyss. He says that he is also grieving but assures Lucy that his grief is far more than hers, as he is grieving his wife, Vera. Although he seems more upset about the inquest and subsequent media coverage than Vera’s actual death. And how exactly did Vera die?⁠

For all those Enchanted April fans, Elizabeth von Arnim felt that this was her very best book–it’s as dark as The Enchanted April is light but they both have that same von Arnim wit running through.⁠

3. The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle

Being a haunted house thriller, The Uninvited is probably the scariest of these books but it is a lot of fun. Bachelor Roderick and his spinster sister, Pamela, decide to escape to the country in Dorothy Macardle’s book, and are quite taken with a beautiful house on the coast of Devonshire and thrilled with the low price.

The owner and his granddaughter, Stella, never visit Cliff End and, as much as they want a buyer, feel it necessary to say there have been “experiences of disturbance” by previous owners. Undeterred by this, Roddy and Pamela become the owners of a very haunted house. ⁠

While the ghostly disturbances are scary, the characters in the book take a logical, almost scientific tack to the hauntings. No one comes apart at the seams. As the narrator, Roderick is sometimes quite insufferable but is unintentionally very funny. Pamela is one smart cookie and isn’t overshadowed in the book. If you are a fan of haunted house books, definitely give this one a try.

4. Starlight by Stella Gibbons

In the beginning, Starlight seems to be a typical mid-century British village novel. You have two eccentric sisters living in Rose Cottage. There’s another eccentric elderly man living in the attic and don’t forget the local Vicar and Curate too. I thought I knew where this was going but I found out pretty quickly that I was wrong.

This book is about poverty, loss, and the forgotten and marginalized. There is also a supernatural evil presence in this story. I laughed and cried while reading Starlight and found the ominous parts really gripping. Stella Gibbons doesn’t pull any punches in this dark read. ⁠

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5. Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

While Mary Stewart is a master of romantic suspense, Thornyhold is one of her gentle Cottage novels that she wrote in her later life. This book is the most autobiographical of her work and by far my coziest and least dark recommendation.

With few options, the heroine, Jilly, is trying to leave behind a bleak and lonely childhood when her cousin Geillis dies and leaves Jilly her cottage. At first glance, the house, called Thornyhold, is quiet and charming but seems to have a secret–a secret that Cousin Geillis carried her whole life. This book is just sprinkled with a bit of witchcraft and a very sweet romance giving you a lovely, cozy read.

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6. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Written in 1926, Lolly Willowes is about Laura Willowes, or Lolly to her family. Laura is an eccentric spinster. She’s never much cared for parties or being matched with suitors and always manages to say the wrong thing so they will leave. She loves being outside and living in the country with her father. ⁠

But when her father dies, Aunt Lolly becomes a burden to her brothers. It’s as if she’s been left in her father’s will–like a favourite chair. No one asks what she wants and the idea of her moving out on her own is never even considered. ⁠Lolly Willowes is about a woman’s very unconventional path to independence. Sylvia Townsend Warner imbues the story with darkness and magic. It is a strange and wonderful little book. 

What’s your favourite dark yet cozy read?

Cozy scene of someone reading a book, with a teacup, old-fashioned clock, and books scattered around.

More Inspiration for Dark and Cozy Reading:

About the author

Michelle Quinn, a lover of books and make-believe, was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada and continues to live there with her husband and grown twins. Building on her love of reading, Michelle became a primary teacher and has taught for twenty-five years. When not reading, Michelle loves to travel, write, go for long drives and needle-felt little book-loving animal figures for her Etsy shop. You can find her on Instagram at @noraandedie or at her website noraandedie.ca.

Other posts by Michelle on Tea and Ink Society:

Six Dark and Cozy Vintage Reads
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16 Comments

  1. I’ve only heard of “Thornyhold”. (I do love Mary Stewart!). I would recommend some Dorothy Eden. I think “An Afternoon Walk” is just a touch eerie. “Waiting for Willa” was my introduction to Eden and the Scandinavian winter is very atmospheric.

  2. Jane/Emily by Patricia Clapp. Set in Edwardian Lynn, young Louisa Amory brings her recently orphaned niece to spend the summer with her paternal grandmother in her house on the outskirts of Lynn. But the beautiful old house has secrets, and a dark presence that won’t be denied….

    1. Ooo, I love a beautiful old house with secrets! From looking at that book’s description, I bet I would’ve loved it as a young adult…and bet I will now, too! I will read it!

    1. Good ones! We had a beloved audiobook version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow growing up. We always wanted to listen to it in the car when we were driving somewhere after dark, to really set the spooky mood!

  3. Although written in this century, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is a delicious gothic tale. A bit lengthy, its seduction lies in the revelation of mystery through letters and casts a determined daughter on a search for something dark and evil… A modern day Dracula tale, The Historian will not disappoint! Now, my only problem will be choosing my next selection! Thank you Elsie!

  4. I just purchased Vera based on this article and I’m looking forward to reading it! I also LOVE The Historian and I have some of my mom’s vintage Dorothy Eden books. I really appreciate all the book recommendations, thank you so much!

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