Since it is Friday the 13th and we can practically smell Halloween just around the corner, if you’re still not feeling freakishly festive, here’s a small list of seasonal book recommendations to help you get your spooky on. While each of the books mentioned are creepy in their own unique way, no matter what your cup of horror is, I’m sure you will find something to pleasantly fright you this October.
During one of many rainy, boring days, curious young Coraline discovers a door within her family’s new flat that leads to nowhere—rather, it opens to an impassible brick wall. Until one night she opens the door and the brick wall has mysteriously vanished, replaced with a passageway that leads to another world—almost identical to her own, but better. Better toys, better tasting food, and parents who aren’t too busy to spend time with Coraline—albeit, they have strange button eyes that make Coraline a little uncomfortable. All seems swell until her button-eyed “other” mother asks Coraline to stay with her, forever, and Coraline is forced to acknowledge a dark truth to this otherwise surreal, dream-like (or nightmarish) dimension.
“How do I know you’ll keep your word?” asked Coraline.
“I swear it,” said the other mother. “I swear it on my own mother’s grave.”
“Does she have a grave?” asked Coraline.
“Oh yes,” said the other mother. “I put her in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back.”
Coraline, as you’d might concur coming from Neil Gaiman, is a delightfully creepy tale. With high re-readability, this is one I’ve read many times throughout my years, and its Gaiman-esque other-worldly spook factor still proves effective—even reading it as a “grown-up.” It’s a quick, eerie read quintessential for Halloween, so you really have no excuse not to add it to your October reading list.
Plus, there’s a sassy cat in this book, who in the “other” world speaks human and says basically everything you’d imagine an independent and superior feline would say:
“‘Cats don’t have names,’ it said. […] ‘Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.'”
2. ‘Salem’s Lot
I mean, I had to put Stephen King on this list, didn’t I? ‘Salem’s Lot tells the harrowing story of a long-rooted evil in a forgotten town, told through a handful of ordinary protagonists trying to defeat an insidious, blood-sucking monster that has stalked Jerusalem’s Lot for many years. In typical King fashion, he parallels each character’s very own personal fears and living hell to the otherworldly terror they are up against. King also paints the actual town as a living, breathing character in itself, which only adds to the thick, unsettling atmosphere:
“The town kept its secrets, and the Marsten House brooded over it like a ruined king.”
“The town has a sense, not of history, but of time, and the telephone poles seem to know this. If you lay your hand against one, you can feel the vibration from the wires deep within the wood, as if souls had been imprisoned in there and were struggling to get out.”
“The town knew about darkness.
It knew about the darkness that comes on the land when rotation hides the land from the sun, and about the darkness of the human soul.”
Taking inspiration from Dracula, King stays true to the dark and menacing origins of the vampire and delivers one of the most terrifying versions of this night-crawling monster you won’t soon forget. Not to mention, after reading this book you’ll definitely think twice about who you willingly let into your home.
Horrorstӧr is a fun and inventive horror novel by Grady Hendrix about a haunted Scandinavian furniture superstore called Orsk— yes, you read that right, and yes, Orsk is intended to be an Ikea knock-off. At a particular Orsk in Cleveland, Ohio, there has been ongoing, unexplained phenomena happening overnight, and the store employees open every morning to find broken bookshelves, shattered glass goblets, and excrement smeared upholstery. Not to mention, all of the employees have been receiving texts from the same unknown number saying just one word: help.
To get to the bottom of this mysterious vandalism, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour graveyard shift, patrolling the labyrinth-like showroom aisles and massive warehouse of Orsk in the dead of night. But as the strange noises and weird happenings become more sinister, they ultimately find themselves trapped in a horror show worse than anything these floor partners could have imagined.
First of all, I am a sucker for great packaging, so naturally I have to point out how awesome the cover and overall design of this book is. The entire artistic concept and design of the book is meant to look like your typical Ikea catalog—complete with furniture descriptions at the head of each chapter, a tear-out order form and a floor map of the Orsk store— so I have to give Hendrix props for really selling this idea. So, having said that, I highly recommend getting a physical copy of this book, rather than just a Kindle or Audio version, so you can really enjoy the full Orsk experience.
“We don’t stop. We don’t Sleep. And now we’re in your home.”
Secondly, I have to say, if you too are a slave-worker of any type of retail environment, you will strongly appreciate this book just for calling out the everyday horrors of working retail in general:
“There’s nothing waiting inside but retail slavery, endless exploitation, and personal subjugation to the whims of our corporate overlords.”
But all that aside, while this book does present some rather cliché frights, it’s wonderfully fun and creepy for this time of the year, and anyone who enjoys horror, as well as snarky, original characters, will get a scream out of this book.
4. The Winter People
In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea was discovered dead in the field behind her farmhouse, not long after the tragic death of her beloved young daughter, Gertie. In present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie is living in this very same farmhouse when her mother Alice up and vanishes. As days go by, Ruthie and her younger sister Fawn frantically search for clues of their mother’s disappearance, and upon discovering a diary belonging to Sara Harrison Shea hidden beneath the floorboards, they uncover a terrible and gruesome mystery they must stop from trying to repeat itself.
Although this story is (obviously) set in winter, it has everything fit to be the perfect Halloween read. Anchored in lore and mystery, The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is eerily haunting, with vivid—and at times, horrific—imagery reminiscent of Stephen King, but with more of an elegant, shivery flair. It beautifully intertwines two separate stories and timelines that take place in the same town—on the same plot of land—between the year 1908 and present day. This is one that might inspire you to leave the light on when you sleep.
“Madness is always a wonderful excuse, don’t you think? For doing terrible things to other people.”
5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle
A rare gem of a horror legend, Shirley Jackson is best known for very eloquently writing crawling-in-your-skin terror, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle is no exception to her understated yet maddening prose. Originally published in 1962, this is the story of a family that was poisoned to death one fateful night by arsenic in the sugar bowl—the only three surviving heirs to Blackwood mansion now being sisters Merricat and Constance, and their crippled old Uncle Julian.
Through the eyes of young Mary Katherine (Merricat) Blackwood, we see how the common villagers believe Constance and Merricat to be evil monsters who murdered their entire family (and may or may not eat children.) Merricat is determined to keep her sweet, agoraphobic older sister protected inside the peaceful world of their estate, but it’s no secret how much she hates the hostile outsiders for persecuting her family.
What makes this story so rich yet haunting is the narrator, the vividly imagined Merricat. A witty, child-like, and chillingly twisted POV, she quite flippantly spits lines like:
“I would have liked to come into the grocery some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain of dying. I would help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick for Mrs.Donell while she lay there. I was never sorry when I had thoughts like this; I only wished they would come true.”
This is the kind of atmospheric and moody psychological horror that is perfect for this time of year, and on top of that, is a classic piece of gothic horror.