13 books full of thrills and chills for Halloween
Halloween is nearly upon us — and with it, trick-or-treating, costumes and jump scares. While some people are happy indulging in hay rides and pumpkin picking during this season, others relish in the mystery and mischief of the holiday — seeking out ways to heighten fear.
For those who fall into the latter category, we've put together a list of books that will send shivers down your spine: hair-raising novels with an array of diverse of perspectives, ranging from traditional thrillers to supernatural horror. But there's also something here — a few good mysteries — for those of you who want to sleep at night.
Creatures of the night and mind
What Moves The Dead by T. Kingfisher
Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author, Ursula Vernon, writing under the pen name T. Kingfisher, artfully transports Edgar Allen Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" to a contemporary setting. In this version, Alex Easton, a nonbinary retired army lieutenant, goes to the home of their dying childhood friend Madeline Usher, whose brother Roderick they served with. Alex arrives to find the Usher house simultaneously alive and dead; as Kingfisher writes, "The dead don't walk. Except, sometimes, when they do." Not only is the home decaying, but also the siblings, Alex discovers. And an abundance of creepy white hares, which have forgotten how to run and stare right at humans, and a wild assortment of fungal horrors have overrun the property. With the help of Eugenia, a British mycologist, and Denton, an American doctor, Alex must determine "what moves the dead."
The Wild Hunt by Emma Seckel
In the wake of World War II and after years away, Leigh Welles returns home to a remote Scottish island when she receives word of her father's death. Her return coincides with the seasonal blitz of sluagh, flying creatures that look like crows and are said to carry the souls of the dead, and with the disappearance of her friend Hugo. The community, already suffering from the loss of its young men in the war, has stopped searching for Hugo. But Leigh and RAF veteran Iain McTavish press on. They soon discover that secrets abound and that forces beyond their imagination exist. Inspired by Celtic folklore and historical events, Emma Seckel intermingles myth and history in her haunting debut novel.
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
In a classic creator vs. creation story, Silvia Moreno-Garcia reimagines H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau in the context of 19th century Mexico. Carlota, the only daughter of the brilliant and eccentric Doctor Moreau, lives with her father on a lush, secluded estate far from the grueling conditions of the Yucatan peninsula. There, he conducts experiments that are funded by the wealthy Lizaldes family. His creations, animal-human hybrids that lurk in the shadows, are his obsession. When the Lizaldes' son Eduardo arrives, he becomes enamored with Carlota and their forbidden connection disrupts the seemingly harmonious environment. Carlota begins to question her reality and her father's intentions.
Tales of haunted homes
The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
The Hacienda is a chilling Mexican gothic horror, full of suspense that will have you tethered to each page. After the death of her father and the destruction of her home during the Mexican War of Independence, Beatriz is desperate for security. When the wealthy Don Rodolfo Solórzano proposes to her, Beatriz seizes the opportunity — despite rumors about the the disappearance of his previous wife. But at her new home, Hacienda San Isidro, Beatriz is haunted by a mysterious presence. When no one believes her, she confides in a young priest with secrets of his own, Padre Andres, to ward off the dark, supernatural force, which author Isabel Cañas describes as "a powerful, uncontrollable, malicious presence" in an interview with NPR.
Lute by Jennifer Thorne
The remote English island of Lute is something of a paradise; its residents live lives of quiet bliss, even as war rages around them. But their good fortune comes at a cost. Every seventh summer, seven people must die. And while the novel is set in the future, the manners of the island's inhabitants evoke those of a long-ago past. Among those inhabitants is newcomer Nina, an American married to Lord Hugh Treadway, whose family has always protected Lute. When she moves to the island and discovers the strange lore, she is skeptical. And then, after seven years, "The Day" arrives, and Nina has a transformative experience, one that is both terrifying and humbling.
Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
If you've recently streamed The Watcher on Netflix, this one is for you. Vera never imagined she would return home. But when her depraved, dying mother requests her presence, she abides. At home, she must confront her dark past, and her relationship with her dead father, an infamous serial killer. Vera's return is further complicated by a new tenant in the house, an artist who is preoccupied with her father. When mysterious letters begin to appear in her father's handwriting, Vera suspects the new tenant may be playing tricks on her. But perhaps there is another tenant in the Crowder house, one that never left in the first place.
Conspiracies and mysteries to curl up with
Cherish Farrah by Bethany C. Morrow
Cherish Farrah is a social horror story in the vein of Get Out that delves into the intersectionality of race and class. Farrah is the teenage daughter of upper middle class Black parents living in a white country club community. The only other Black person in the community is her best friend, Cherish, who was adopted by the Whitmans, a wealthy white family. When circumstances uproot Farrah from her home, she moves in with Cherish. As her life grows more unstable, Farrah's need for control grows, and she is determined to assert herself in her new home. Strange things start happening and tensions grow as Farrah begins to realize that the Whitmans' motives are not what they seem.
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley
When Jess' life hits a rough patch, she retreats to the Paris apartment of Ben, her estranged half-brother. Things seem off immediately: When she arrives, Jess is surprised to discover that despite his modest income, Ben lives in swanky, luxury apartment. Even more mysterious is that Ben is nowhere to be found, and his neighbors become the prime suspects. Lucy Foley tells the story from multiple perspectives, providing insight into a universe of motivations and guiding the reader in this atmospheric whodunit. The vivid contrast between the romantic Parisian setting and the apartment's sinister interior creates an unnerving tension. "With characters suspicious and unlikeable in their own way and a fun twist, you're in for a dark and moody escape," says NPR's Arielle Retting.
Are You Sara? by S.C. Lalli
Saraswati "Sara" Bhaduri works two jobs in order to pay for law school, including as a bartender at the local dive bar. One night, her boss sends Sara, a "nice Indian girl," to "deal" with a drunk girl in the bathroom. The two women bond over their shared name — the other girl is named Sarah Ellis — and engage in small talk before calling rideshares home. When Sara wakes up in the backseat of her ride in an affluent neighborhood, she realizes she got into the wrong car and makes her way back home, where she finds police cars waiting and Sarah Ellis lifeless on the doorstep. Was Sarah's death a case of mistaken identity? Or not? S.C. Lalli's novel unfolds through the perspective of both women. It details who Sarah was, tracing the events of her privileged life leading up to her death, and depicts Sara's determination to figure out what happened. Lalli's debut novel is dark, complex and suspenseful, and raises questions about just how far some people will go to defy societal expectations.
Black Canvas: A Campus Haunting by Matt Richardson
Set in the 1980s, Black Canvas follows an eager nonbinary student who discovers that not everything is as it seems at their private New England college. The unsettling atmosphere of the predominantly white institution stokes their discomfort (and ours). As the nameless narrator reflects: "If I was being honest with myself, it was there from the beginning. ... I could feel it in the back of my eyes, in my nailbeds, at the bottom of my feet. Later it would make its home in my stomach, but at first, it settled in these obscure places where no one looked." As the campus' history and disturbing secrets are revealed, the student's nightmares of alienation become reality and they are forced to confront the racialized and gendered underpinnings of "polite society." The novel is "absorbing and chilling; both a disturbing ghost story and a warning from a fraught cultural time and space," says NPR correspondent Neda Ulaby.
Where crime and the supernatural meet
Shutter by Ramona Emerson
Rita Todacheene, a forensic photographer from New Mexico's Navajo Nation, has a knack for cracking cases in this thrilling crime-novel-meets-spiritual-ghost-story. Todacheene's supernatural ability goes beyond capturing fine details: Through her lens, she's able to see the ghosts of crime victims, who provide her with overlooked clues. When Rita is sent to photograph the scene of a suicide, she crosses paths with a victim who insists that they were murdered. Ghosts have haunted Rita throughout her life, and her psychological trauma has forced her to keep to herself and has gotten her in trouble. This time, it may get her killed.
The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias
Author Gabino Iglesias — who is also a book critic for NPR — takes us into the dark and devastating world of a rookie hitman for the Mexican cartel in The Devil Takes You Home. After losing his daughter to leukemia, his job and his wife, Mario decides to reach out to an old friend with ties to the cartel as a last resort to avoid financial ruin. He takes out his first mark — and realizes his proclivity for and numbness to violence. With no liabilities, just the burden of his grief and debts, Mario takes on a two-day job that will pay $200,000, with the hopes of salvaging his marriage and perhaps his life. In this harrowing tale, the "mix of religious, superstitious, and supernatural elements add a dimension ... that heightens its horror, but also its social commentary," says critic Ilana Masad in her review for NPR.
A cozy mystery for those who want to sleep peacefully
The Maid by Nita Prose
After the recent loss of her doting grandmother, Molly Gray has taken refuge in her work as a maid in an upscale hotel. In her review for NPR, critic Bethanne Patrick describes Molly as neurodivergent, noting that she "may even have Autism spectrum disorder, not that Molly uses either of those terms. " What the reader does see is that Molly struggles with social interaction and understanding the intentions of others. The sureness of cleaning rooms, though, provides her great comfort. That is, until she discovers a dead guest, the infamous and wealthy Charles Black. Molly is awkward while interacting with the police, and a result becomes the prime suspect in the case, despite the many, more likely perpetrators. "The delight of reading The Maid lies partly in watching the hectic cast of characters unravel (take special pleasure in watching Rodney Stiles, the hotel head bartender on whom Molly has a crush) as the crime is properly solved," Patrick says.
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