One of my personal favorite parts about Halloween is that my friends and family really like to get into the spooky spirit. I am always in a spooky mood, and it brings my cold black heart joy to see my loved ones come visit me over here on the dark side. They ask me for recommendations for movies, TV shows, and books, the latter of which I absolutely love to give since I am a huge lit nerd.
I’ve done this before in my Classic Spooky Read post from last Halloween. If you are interested in picking up am iconic horror masterpiece like Frankenstein, or Dracula, or The Haunting of Hill House, now is the perfect time! But if you want something newer, a little fresher and more contemporary, then you should check out my list of 12 modern horror novel favorites.
The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill
The Woman in Black is an old-school gothic horror novella about the ghost of a vengeful spirit and unburied tragedy. A London lawyer is sent to the crumbling manor, Eel Marsh House, to attend to the affairs and will of a recently deceased client. There, he finds that the house contains a terrible, secret past. The lawyer is then forced to reckon with the ghost of a woman who roams the island, searching for her lost child and claiming the children of those unfortunate enough to cross her path. Full of atmosphere and looming dread, The Woman in Black is a good choice for those of you who favor ghost stories over gore.
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
If you’re tired of sparkling and sexy teen vampires, Salem’s Lot should be on your reading list. Stephen King’s favorite of his novels, Salem’s Lot has enough vampire terror for days along with lots of commentary on small-town dynamics, as town’s vampire infestation is only one of Salem’s many secrets. It even has a bonus political bent to the horror, as King himself has explained that a lot of his disillusionment surrounding the Watergate scandal impacted the way he wrote the story. Timely, no?
The Silence of the Lambs (Hannibal Lecter) by Thomas Harris
If you are reading this blog, you’ve probably seen the film adaption of this novel. While the 1991 version is expertly done and wonderfully acted, you should consider reading the novel that started it all. A grim, entertaining combination of the hard-boiled detective story and detailed character portraits, The Silence of the Lambs, is the most famous consult-a-serial-killer novel ever, and for good reason. Like the movie, the book is a taut thriller that isn’t afraid to include gruesome details. But the novel has the added ability to take you inside the minds of Clarice Starling, Jack Crawford, Buffalo Bill, and Hannibal Lector. It’s really something else to have a window into the inner worlds of these compelling characters. And with Thomas Harris’s no-nonsense writing style, The Silence of the Lambs is a perfect quick read for Halloween.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
With a narrative like a series of enigmatic Russian nesting dolls, House of Leaves is ostensibly about a family that discovers that their house has taken on impossible dimensions and qualities straight out of a Lovecraft story. A door suddenly appears in the living room wall and proceeds to move about the house. A wall measures longer from inside the house than outside the house. A hallway materializes, leading five and a half minutes to an enormous, cavernous room with no discernible floor. House of Leaves is about much more than the house or the family that must grapple with the mayhem it wrecks, tackling everything from complex mathematical theories to academic satire, but it is well worth it for the creepy, unsettling atmosphere. It’s a unique novel-reading experience, like nothing I’ve ever read before or will ever read again.
Fledgling by Octavia Butler
In the world of Fledgling, vampires and humans have developed a symbiotic and dependent relationship. To tip the balance in their favor, the vampires create a genetic experiment where they injected melatonin in the skin of one of their own, resulting in Shori Matthews, the first dark-skinned vampire and the only one who can walk in sunlight. But some vampires are disgusted by Shori and, considering her an abomination, plot to kill her. Combining horror and sci-fi elements, Butler repurposes the vampire legend with an examination of racism, autonomy, and the struggle to survive.
Let the Right One In: A Novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist
This is one of my favorite books on this list and its Swedish film adaptation is one of my favorite horror movies. This vampire-human love story is the antithesis of Twilight, exploring the dark, heavy themes against a snowy suburban backdrop and developing the touching yet unsettling relationship between a bullied child named Oskar and a terrifying vampire child named Eli.
Fair warning, despite the wonderfully translated prose and vivid storytelling, this book deals with themes like child neglect, bullying, pedophilia, loneliness, the disintegration of essential relationships, genital mutilation, and, of course, murder. This book is not for the faint of heart, but if you like literary horror, this is a great book for you.
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Lauren Beukes previously wrote The Shining Girls, which was more of a crime thriller with scary elements, but now she has made a shift to horror. In Broken Monsters, the city of Detroit is populated with damaged people struggling to make sense of the hellish state of things. Two teenagers bait and blackmail online predators. A washed-up journalist chases a dangerous story in a bid to reclaim his former glory. And then there’s the detective, obsessed with her most recent murder case involving two corpses—half of a boy, half of a deer, inexplicably fused together. All of these threads unravel and tangle up again, and someone else is pulling the strings. Something is very, very wrong in the city.
Bird Box: A Novel by Josh Malerman
A tight and tense read, Bird Box is a great little horror novel that moves at breakneck speed through a post-apocalyptic world. In the very near future, terrifying creatures have taken over. No one knows where they came from or what they want. All anyone knows is that survival depends on one thing—never look at the creatures.
If you look at them, you go insane. Murderous. Destroying anyone near you in an unhinged rage before you kill yourself. For Malorie, the survival of her children and herself is the only goal. But after several years scrapping a life out of the ruin, her goal demands she take an incalculable risk.
Keep an eye out for the Netflix adaptation of Bird Box, due in 2018.
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
A critical darling of Australia’s literary scene, The Natural Way of Things is the horrifying story of ten women who are abducted, imprisoned, and tortured in the Australia outback. The reason behind their capture? Each of the women has been involved in a highly-publicized scandal with powerful men, ranging from affairs to sexual assault, and those powerful men are flexing their muscle to silence these women. Hailed as a “masterpiece of feminist horror,” The Natural Way of Things explores how sexism and misogyny hurt and warp men and women alike, though in uniquely drastic and destructive ways.
A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel by Paul Tremblay
The 2015 winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel, A Head Full of Ghosts is a fascinating blend of psychology, supernatural horror, religious doubt, and reality TV culture. The Barrett family is at the end of its rope: after falling on hard times, eldest daughter Marjorie begins to exhibit increasingly erratic and disturbing behavior. Is she suffering from mental illness or demonic possession? The family consents to bringing in a Catholic priest as well as a reality TV crew to document the whole ordeal for public consumption. Naturally, the situation spirals out of control, and tragedy strikes. It won’t be until years later that anyone cares to unearth the truth about what happened to Marjorie and face the horrors the Barrett family experienced.
Hammers on Bone (Persons Non Grata) by Cassandra Khaw
The supernatural detective subgenre enjoys unending popularity, with countless series populating bookstores and libraries. A finalist for the British Fantasy Award and the Locus Award for Best Novella, Hammers on Bone, is a decidedly more grotesque, horrific spin on the hard-boiled occult mystery. A private eye, who is not entirely human, is hired by a ten-year-old child to kill his stepfather. As the detective investigates the abusive man, he discovers something far more sinister. “It takes a monster to kill a monster” but how far will the detective go to do his job? Described as “queasily vivid” Hammers on Bone shines a light onto the oppressed darkness of human nature.
Body by Asa Nonami
Body isn’t a novel; it’s a collection of horror short stories woven together by themes of body image, self-perception, and all the ways we feel hindered by our physical bodies. Each of the five stories deals with a separate body part– buttocks, blood, face, hair and chin—and how the protagonist of each story experiences the physical manifestation of serious and morbid psychological problems. Body is, of course, a foray into twisted tales of body horror and existential angst. At less than 200 pages, it might seem like a quick read, but don’t try to power through it in one sitting.