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My top 10 chilling reads for Halloween
The kept-me-up-at-night horror, creepy fairy tales, and dark and twisty reads perfect for fall
I’m not a Christmas fan, but I absolutely love Halloween. The decorations, the costumes, the crisp fall nights, and of course, the horror fiction—traditional and non-traditional.
I will say my taste does not include anything gory, explicitly violent, or true crime in nature. (I accidentally read Chuck Pahlaniuk’s Haunted, and I was nauseous for days; that is a book I will never revisit.) But I do like my books dark, creepy, unapologetically shocking, and when appropriate, subversive.
Here are my favorites for the season, including a few I’ve read and listened to in the last month.
Not too scary
Fairy Tale by Stephen King. I just finished listening to this one, and it was EPIC. It never felt as long as it was, and I found myself wishing there was a part two. King is one of the most gifted writers of our time, and this is one my 10-year-old would enjoy as much as I did. Creepy, fantasy, but not scary.
Lisey’s Story by Stephen King. My hands-down favorite King novel, and I’ve read almost all of them. It’s not technically “horror,” but it’s haunting, beautifully mysterious, and dark. I know they made it into a TV series but do yourself a favor and read the book, as I cannot imagine any TV production doing it justice.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. I wouldn’t call it horror, but its shadowy, alchemy, godly feel makes it perfect for the season. It’s fascinating, weird, creepy, and heart-breaky all at once. More magically strange than terrifying, I’d say, but still… beware the (literal) monsters. I’ve read this one twice and keep finding new things to love about it.
The Outsider by Stephen King. Can you tell I’m on a kick? I read this a few years ago, and am re-listening to it on Audible. It’s not quite horror, unless you think about how it might feel to be accused of an unspeakably violent crime you didn’t commit. Or did you? King is the master of storytelling, the narration is perfect, and the story took me on a wild ride that had me listening anywhere and everywhere I could sneak a few minutes with my headphones. (Content warning: Graphic descriptions of a child’s sexual abuse and murder.)
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I’m not sure I’ve read a book with a more appropriate title. It’s a gothic horror story set in a decrepit mansion high in the mountains of Mexico, with a feisty socialite lead, a terrifyingly charming villain, and enough supernatural suspense and mystery to keep me up well past bedtime to finish. It was imaginative, dark, and more than a little creepy, and I even loved the pages that grossed me out.
The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig. I just finished this one, and though I thought he couldn’t top the pandemic-themed Wanderers, he’s 100% gone and done it. This one starts off as straight-as-an-arrow Steven King-ish horror, but quickly morphs into a runaway train of other-wordly connections that wind together in the most unexpected and satisfying ways. It was pure poetry, and I immediately tweeted at him how much I loved it. (Content warning: child abuse)
Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig. I also just finished this one (in hardcover) and Wendig knocks it out of the park over and over again. A blessed/cursed apple, a hunt through history, a town consumed, and as usual, some strong female protagonists who race against time to save the ones they love. I couldn’t wait to go to bed each night to dig back into this one.
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This is some scary sh*t
The Only Good Indians by Steven Graham Jones. My best book of 2020 and the one horror book I recommend above all others. I literally could not put it down… except alone at night, I had to put it down and make sure my doors were all locked. Literally, I did this. This book was truly scary in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time, and it moved so fast that there were times I’d startle, go back a few paragraphs, and say, “Wait, what the (bleep) did I just read?” It’s brilliant and beautiful and I will be re-consuming every page starting today, as I just finished the last page of Wendig. No content warnings, it’s just terrifying, and belongs in a category of its own.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. How many times have I talked about this book? A zillion, because it’s one of my top ten of all time. It’s not traditional horror, but be warned—this book is very messed up. (No content warnings, other than violence—I wouldn’t say it’s at all gory, but it’s dark as hell.) From the very first page, it flings open the door, punches you in the face, and doesn’t let up until the very last scene. It’s glorious and horrible and completely un-put-down-able. I’ve never read anything like it to this day, although it’s not for the faint of heart.
Mary: An Awakening of Terror, by Nat Cassidy. I listened to this on Audible, and it was a WILD ride. To start, our protagonist is a premenopausal women alive in a world which undervalues and underestimates women of a certain age, which I loved (and was a character all unto itself). The narration was impeccable—highly recommend listening versus reading. The tale was disturbing, thought-provoking, at times gory, and darkly laughable. (The author’s content warnings include mutilation, animal death, and implied sexual trauma.)
We are All Completely Fine, by Daryl Gregory. What I like the best about this book is how it just throws you right into the deep end, with no preamble or warning—just “HERE ARE OUR MONSTERS.” And lord, there are monsters. I don’t want to give too much away (and you kind of just need to experience it for yourself), but reader beware. This one is so dark, it bleeds. (Content warning: Graphic scenes and extensive discussions of mutilation/abuse.)
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. This is horror all grown up, elegant, sharp, and pitch perfect. These short stories all have their own flair, but the narrative that ties them all together are the realities of women’s lives and the terrible things visited upon their bodies. There is violence and sexuality, and it is unapologetically subversive.