Spooky season is upon us, and apart from decorating and watching scary movies, sometimes a chilling book is exactly what you need to get in the spirit of the season. We’ve got some suggestions for you.
I’m normally the first to tell people, I’m a big ‘ol Halloweenie. My reticence in watching scary movies or playing horror video games is fairly well documented at this point. That said, I’ve always enjoyed a good horror book. I can’t fully explain why, but for some reason, horror on paper doesn’t have the same effect on me, and I’m better able to enjoy the overall story being told rather than being scared.
As such, I’ve read quite a few and thought it would be fun to throw out some novels that might help you get in the spooky mood this Halloween season. My picks here are a mixture of older books I’ve read, and some new/upcoming releases I think are worth keeping an eye on!
George A. Romero invented the modern zombie with Night of the Living Dead, creating a monster that has become a key part of pop culture. Romero often felt hemmed in by the constraints of film-making. To tell the story of the rise of the zombies and the fall of humanity the way it should be told, Romero turned to fiction. Unfortunately, when he died, the story was incomplete.
Enter Daniel Kraus, co-author, with Guillermo del Toro, of the New York Times bestseller The Shape of Water (based on the Academy Award-winning movie) and Trollhunters (which became an Emmy Award-winning series), and author of The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch (an Entertainment Weekly Top 10 Book of the Year). A lifelong Romero fan, Kraus was honored to be asked, by Romero’s widow, to complete The Living Dead.
Set in the present day, The Living Dead is an entirely new tale, the story of the zombie plague as George A. Romero wanted to tell it.
Spook Factor: Nothing says “Halloween thrills” quite like zombies. It’s a genre I’ve always been a sucker for, but The Living Dead has the distinction of being based on George A. Romero’s own notes/ideas. As a fan of his particular take on zombies, I was thrilled when this arrived back in 2020. Not only does it offer a solid new story, but manages to deliver the creep and gross out factor you’d normally expect from an on-screen experience.
1836, Wisconsin. Catalina lives with her pa and brother in a ramshackle cabin on the edge of the wilderness. Harsh winters have brought the family to the brink of starvation, and Catalina has replaced her poet’s soul with an unyielding determination to keep Pa and her brother alive.
When a sudden illness claims Pa, a strange man appears—a man covered in bark, leaves growing from his head, and sap dripping from his eyes. He scoops up her brother and disappears, leaving behind a bird with crimson wings. Catalina can’t let this man—if that’s what he is—have her brother. So, she grabs Pa’s knife and follows the bird.
Along the way, she finds help from a young lumberjack, who has his own reasons for hunting the Man of Sap. As their journey takes them deeper into the woods, they encounter strange beasts and tormented spirits. The more they uncover about the Man of Sap, the more they learn how deeply Catalina’s fate is entwined with his, planted long ago in cursed seeds.
Spook Factor – I’m always down with fantasy elements and a story that manages to blend in the supernatural parts of folklore. This seems to be exactly what Krause is doing here, combined with a period setting that almost instantly evokes that spooky feeling we associated with the holiday.
When Louise finds out her parents have died, she dreads going home. She doesn’t want to leave her daughter with her ex and fly to Charleston. She doesn’t want to deal with her family home, stuffed to the rafters with the remnants of her father’s academic career and her mother’s lifelong obsession with puppets and dolls. She doesn’t want to learn how to live without the two people who knew and loved her best in the world.
Most of all, she doesn’t want to deal with her brother, Mark, who never left their hometown, gets fired from one job after another, and resents her success. Unfortunately, she’ll need his help to get the house ready for sale because it’ll take more than some new paint on the walls and clearing out a lifetime of memories to get this place on the market.
But some houses don’t want to be sold, and their home has other plans for both of them…
Spook Factor: Though it came out early this year, if you missed out on Hendrix’s latest novel, this is the perfect time to remedy that. Oozing with charm and a story that feels simple, yet pulls you in at a breakneck pace, this is a tough novel to put down. Underneath the heartfelt aspect of the story and characters, there are some genuinely creepy moments that will stick with you.
As the ash and chaos from Mount Rainier’s eruption swirled and finally settled, the story of the Greenloop massacre has passed unnoticed, unexamined . . . until now. The journals of resident Kate Holland, recovered from the town’s bloody wreckage, capture a tale too harrowing—and too earth-shattering in its implications—to be forgotten. In these pages, Max Brooks brings Kate’s extraordinary account to light for the first time, faithfully reproducing her words alongside his own extensive investigations into the massacre and the legendary beasts behind it. Kate’s is a tale of unexpected strength and resilience, of humanity’s defiance in the face of a terrible predator’s gaze, and, inevitably, of savagery and death.
Yet it is also far more than that.
Because if what Kate Holland saw in those days is real, then we must accept the impossible. We must accept that the creature known as Bigfoot walks among us—and that it is a beast of terrible strength and ferocity.
Part survival narrative, part bloody horror tale, part scientific journey into the boundaries between truth and fiction, this is a Bigfoot story as only Max Brooks could chronicle it—and like none you’ve ever read before.
Spook Factor: I’ve always been fascinated by cryptids, and specifically Bigfoot since a very young age. I devour just about any documentary/TV special featuring the creature, and generally enjoy the many stories that utilizes them in some fun ways. Enter Max Brooks, who took his horror skill from World War Z and applied them to a terrifying new story about Bigfoot. Told in the same “journal” style of writing, what unfolds is a chilling story that keeps the tension high and brings the same thrills as a ‘creature feature’ movie.
Featuring stories from: Norris Black – Amber Blaeser-Wardzala – Phoenix Boudreau – Cherie Dimaline – Carson Faust – Kelli Jo Ford – Kate Hart – Shane Hawk – Brandon Hobson – Darcie Little Badger – Conley Lyons – Nick Medina – Tiffany Morris – Tommy Orange – Mona Susan Power – Marcie R. Rendon – Waubgeshig Rice – Rebecca Roanhorse – Andrea L. Rogers – Morgan Talty – D.H. Trujillo – Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. – Richard Van Camp – David Heska Wanbli Weiden – Royce Young Wolf – Mathilda Zeller
Many Indigenous people believe that one should never whistle at night. This belief takes many forms: for instance, Native Hawaiians believe it summons the Hukai’po, the spirits of ancient warriors, and Native Mexicans say it calls Lechuza, a witch that can transform into an owl. But what all these legends hold in common is the certainty that whistling at night can cause evil spirits to appear–and even follow you home. These wholly original and shiver-inducing tales introduce readers to ghosts, curses, hauntings, monstrous creatures, complex family legacies, desperate deeds, and chilling acts of revenge. Introduced and contextualized by bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones, these stories are a celebration of Indigenous peoples’ survival and imagination, and a glorious reveling in all the things an ill-advised whistle might summon.
Spook Factor: As a Native American myself, I can tell you with some authority…Indigenous scary stories are some of the spookiest you’ll ever encounter. Especially the ones based on local folklore. Seriously, it doesn’t get much more creepy than those and Never Whistle at Night brings together a ridiculous amount of Indigenous authors for an anthology series that I’m sure will keep you up at night.
Julie is a coked-up, burnt-out thirty-year-old whose only retirement plan is dying early. She’s been trying to establish herself in the NYC magic scene, and she’ll work the most gruesome gigs, exorcize the nastiest demons, and make deals with the cruelest gods to claw her way to the top. But nothing can prepare her for the toughest job yet: when her best friend, Sarah, shows up at her door in need of help. Keeping Sarah safe becomes top priority.
Julie is desperate for a quick fix to break the dead-end grind and save her friend. But her power grab sets off a deadly chain of events that puts Sarah – and the entire world – directly in the path of annihilation.
The first explosive adventure in the Carrion City Duology, The Dead Take the A Train fuses Cassandra Khaw’s cosmic horror and Richard Kadrey’s gritty fantasy into a full-throttle thrill ride straight into New York’s magical underbelly.
Spook Factor: Just going off the description we have, this book sounds all sorts of crazy in all the right ways. With the combination of of fantasy elements and the gruesome factor (with a dash of cosmic horrors), there’s a lot going on here that should not only scratch the Halloween itch, but serve as a fun ride all around.
A sudden storm appears above an isolated farmhouse in rural Illinois, bringing with it a relentless and unnatural rain. A rain that eats away at everything it touches. A rain that turns people into monsters.
Trapped inside his crumbling home, a father must do everything he can to keep his family from falling apart. But the rain calls to them, and not everyone wants to stay inside.
Haunted by memories of loss, he must put aside his painful past and find a way to keep them all safe. But the rain shows no signs of stopping, and time is running out.
Spook Factor: A combination of disaster/paranormal and creature feature is one that’s nearly impossible for me to pass up. Just based on the description, it seems to be bringing those classic horror vibes that promises an engaging idea even as it may fall into some familiar tropes. Could be a lot of fun.
The era of the Old Republic is a dark and dangerous time, as Jedi Knights valiantly battle the Sith Lords and their ruthless armies. But the Sith have disturbing plans—and none more so than the fulfillment of Darth Scabrous’s fanatical dream, which is about to become nightmarish reality.
Unlike those other Jedi sidelined to the Agricultural Corps—young Jedi whose abilities have not proved up to snuff—Hestizo Trace possesses one extraordinary Force talent: a gift with plants. Suddenly her quiet existence among greenhouse and garden specimens is violently destroyed by the arrival of an emissary from Darth Scabrous. For the rare black orchid that she has nurtured and bonded with is the final ingredient in an ancient Sith formula that promises to grant Darth Scabrous his greatest desire.
But at the heart of the formula is a never-before-seen virus that’s worse than fatal—it doesn’t just kill, it transforms. Now the rotting, ravenous dead are rising, driven by a bloodthirsty hunger for all things living—and commanded by a Sith Master with an insatiable lust for power and the ultimate prize: immortality . . . no matter the cost.
Spook Factor: This is definitely the oldest book on the list, but it remains one of my all time favorites. Though Star Wars has only dabbled in the horror genre a couple times, Red Harvest shows the potential for the galaxy far, far away to get under the skin. It’s just a great novel, that essentially gives us Sith zombies (but more like the rage-fueled kind from 28 Days Later), and all the fun lore of the Old Republic into once succinct story. It’s a ridiculously fast read and is probably the Star Wars novel I’ve re-read the most.
Relive the magic of the cult-classic film Hocus Pocus with an Illustrated Novelization that retells the story of the film, paired with stunning original artwork throughout from Gris Grimly, ahead of the launch of Hocus Pocus 2!
For the first time ever, fans and readers of all ages can enjoy the full story of the immensely popular Hocus Pocus with this deluxe Illustrated Novelization that will show fans the likes of Max Dennison, the Sanderson Sisters, Binx the cat, and other iconic characters as only celebrated, renowned artist Gris Grimly can: in all of their darkly humorous, unique gruesome glory! With dozens of original illustrations throughout, this Novelization is sure to become an automatic must-have among collectors and avid fans of the film.
Spook Factor: Okay, so this one won’t exactly keep you up at night from the scary factor, but there’s no denying the ability of Hocus Pocus to get just about everyone in the spirit of the season. This is a fun novelization that takes the classic story we know and love, and makes it feel fresh with some excellent illustrations and a re-telling of the story that will delight fans of all ages.
When Margaret and her husband Hal bought the large Victorian house on Hawthorn Street—for sale at a surprisingly reasonable price—they couldn’t believe they finally had a home of their own. Then they discovered the hauntings. Every September, the walls drip blood. The ghosts of former inhabitants appear, and all of them are terrified of something that lurks in the basement. Most people would flee.
Margaret is not most people.
Margaret is staying. It’s her house. But after four years Hal can’t take it anymore, and he leaves abruptly. Now, he’s not returning calls, and their daughter Katherine—who knows nothing about the hauntings—arrives, intent on looking for her missing father. To make things worse, September has just begun, and with every attempt Margaret and Katherine make at finding Hal, the hauntings grow more harrowing, because there are some secrets the house needs to keep.
Spook Factor: I haven’t had the chance to pick this one up just yet, but I’m very eager to get my eyeballs on it. For one, I absolutely love the idea of these paranormal things adhering to a set of “rules.” Almost like how magic works in a fantasy stories. It’s a neat concept, and combined with the mystery aspect it sounds like a unique twist on the “haunted house” tale.
There’s no shortage of scary books to get you in the Halloween spirit (hell, I didn’t even mention Stephen King!), but if you’re looking for something a little bit different, I think these choices are the way to go!
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