Black trees swathed in cloaks of red and gold sway in a sudden chilly breeze. Lit pumpkins leer from stoops and porches. A distant fluttering, like the wings of bats or the shaking hands of some dead thing. Disembodied footsteps just outside the door. Who’s there?
Aaaand that’s about as creepy as I can stand, folks. I am a total wuss when it comes to scary things. I think I can safely blame a babysitter I had when I was about 7 or 8. Somehow, she hadn’t been briefed on my parents’ blanket ban on all things violent, scary, or in anyway gory, and proceeded to tell me every murder story, ghostly tale, and urban legend she could think of. Suffice it to say, I was traumatized. I spent the next few years utterly convinced that I would be violently murdered in my bed by any number of supernatural or banal intruders, and even after growing up and gaining a little perspective, I’ve still never been a fan of horror movies or scary books.
But it’s Hallowe’en. And that means even I can be convinced to push my boundaries a little bit. And since we all know where to find Stephen King, Dracula, and Frankenstein on the shelves, here are some new ideas for eerie reads. So lock the doors, pull the covers tight, and let one of these spooky-ish books stand your hair on end.
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
Even though this book is classed as a middle grade novel, I found it to be delightfully dark and unexpectedly unsettling: in other words, classic Neil Gaiman. When Coraline Jones goes through a door that shouldn’t be there, she discovers another apartment in another house that seems exactly like her own, but with better food and cooler toys. But then she meets the other mother and other father, and they don’t want to let her go home.
Quote: “She left us here,” said one of the voices. “She stole our hearts, and she stole our souls, and she took our lives away, and she left us here, and she forgot about us in the dark.”
This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab
In a world where evil deeds and violence breed actual monsters, sometimes we fail to recognize the monsters within. A thrilling page turner, tense with terror in the darkness and chilling rhymes and unexpected betrayals.
Quote: “Violence breeds. Someone pulls a trigger, sets off a bomb, drives a bus full of tourists off a bridge, and what’s left in the wake isn’t just shell casings, wreckage, bodies. There’s something else. Something bad. An aftermath. A recoil. A reaction to all that anger and pain and death.”
Slade House, by David Mitchell
While this is technically a companion to The Bone Clocks, it stands perfectly well on its own. If you know where to look, Slade House can be found down a nondescript alley in a working-class neighborhood in London. Sometimes. Saying too much about this book amounts to a spoiler, but I’ll admit it gave me nightmares.
Quote: “Tonight feels like a board game co-designed by M. C. Escher on a bender and Stephen King in a fever.”
Language of Thorns, by Leigh Bardugo
A collection of short stories set in the Grisha-verse, this book isn’t strictly scary, although a few verge on creepy. But these haunting vignettes live where all proper fairy-tales do–on the edge of the woods, where the dark trees whisper secrets and we fear what humans have always feared: if we go in, will we ever come out? And is what’s lurking in the darkness worse than what’s lurking in our hearts?
Quote: “This goes to show you that sometimes the unseen is not to be feared and that those meant to love us most are not always ones who do.”
Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan
Mary has been taught her whole life that there’s nothing beyond the village, only the Forest of Hands and Teeth, filled with the relentless Unconsecrated. But when the fence is breached, Mary has to choose between the village, life, and love in this heart-pounding twist on a zombie novel.
Quote: “There is a child – a baby – who long since kicked off her blankets. Her skin is ashen and her mouth open in a perpetual yet silent scream. She isn’t old enough to roll over, to sit up, to climb. So she lies there kicking her fat legs against the footboard of the crib, eternally calling for her mother. For food. For flesh.”
Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake
Still wearing the blood-stained dress she was brutally murdered in, ghostly Anna kills everyone who sets foot in the deserted Victorian house she once called home. Full of spooky atmosphere with a compelling protagonist and just enough cheeky humor, this book sucked me in and didn’t completely turn my hair white.
Quote: “I’ve seen most of what there is to be afraid of in this world, and to tell you the truth, the worst of them are the ones that make you afraid in the light. The things that your eyes see plainly and can’t forget are worse than huddled black figures left to the imagination. Imagination has a poor memory; it slinks away and goes blurry. Eyes remember for much longer.”
The Diviners, by Libba Bray
Full disclosure: I couldn’t finish this one. It was just too sinister and gory for me. (I told you I was a lightweight!) That said, I’ve heard only fantastic reviews from people braver than me, so if you enjoy historical paranormal fantasy featuring a diverse cast and elements of horror, then this might be for you.
Quote: “Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on. Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ’em off for a coupla stones.”
Have you read any of these, or do you have any favorite Hallowe’en books of your own? Share yours in the comment section below!