15 Spooky Reads To Get Into The Halloween Spirit

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Spooky season is finally approaching. That means unboxing your flannels, filling the fridge with apple cider and pumpkin spice coffee creamer, and planning out your Halloween costume. It also means stocking your bedside table with the best contemporary horror books for a daily dose of terror. October is the time of year when we all indulge in the fun side of fear. We welcome in darkness in the form of ghosts, ghouls, and terrifying monsters, eager to be scared to death by things unseen if only for a few moments.

Of course, there are countless horror films and TV classics to help get you in the Halloween spirit. But for those that prefer their escapism in the form of the written word, we have compiled a collection of 15 spooky reads, from gothic horror and mild murder mysteries to twisted retellings of beloved fairy tales. These books, written exclusively by women, are sure to send shivers down your spine and satisfy every type of horror fan.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado is a master of the written word, as well as a champion of lyrical horror and contemporary fiction. Her work skillfully weaves psychological realism, science fiction, horror, comedy, and fantasy together (via Gray Wolf Press) for a thrilling reading experience, unlike anything you've ever encountered.

Machado's award-winning debut collection "Her Body and Other Parties" features eight evocative short stories that are a breath of fresh air in the bloated, male-dominated horror genre. According to The Atlantic, Machado's delightful obsession with non-realism and the surreal, sometimes mythic lives of women is what drives this collection. This book explores the supernatural elements of folktales and urban legends. It also offers doses of macabre violence and caustic humor, staring down the "madwoman" stereotype with unflinching honesty.

Each genre-defying narrative explores the lives of women in ways that feel familiar and terrifying. In the opening story, a beautiful young woman refuses to remove a mysterious green ribbon from her neck despite her husband's endless pleas. In another, a salesgirl finds ghosts sewn into the seams of dresses she sells (via NPR). The heroines in this collection are haunted by their bodies, their partners, and the decaying world around them in a way that resonates with readers long after the final page is read.

Purchase "Her Body and Other Parties" by Carmen Maria Machado at Barnes & Noble for $16. 

Bunny by Mona Awad

Mona Awad's "Bunny" is a story about what is real and what is not. It is a visceral amalgamation of horror, satire, and fairy tale that explores power dynamics, the limits of friendship, personal insecurities, and the terrible need to belong (via The Washington Post).

"Bunny" follows the self-isolating, rebellious writer Samantha Mackey, a fiction writer on scholarship at a prestigious MFA program. Samantha despises her program cohorts, a group of codependent, wealthy, nearly identical women who refer to one another as "bunny." However, when she is invited to join the girls for their fabled Smut Salon, Samantha finds herself falling deeper into their sweet but sinister world of monstrous creations (via Bookshop).

The bizarre plot of "Bunny" is delightful and oftentimes disorienting, but in a way that is blissfully entertaining and easy to follow (via The Adroit Journal). Awad's striking prose and careful reveals create a constant sense of unease that builds, with whisper-light touches of violence, gore, and traditional horror tropes smattered throughout the novel. The result is a wickedly smart, terrifying, and strange novel sure to send more than one shiver down your spine.

Purchase "Bunny" by Mona Awad at Barnes & Noble for $15.30.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Fans of gothic horror will love Rachel Hawkins' debut adult fiction novel "The Wife Upstairs." This clever reimagining of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" follows the rags-to-riches saga of 20-something Jane, a petty thief with a difficult past who longs for security and to have what she feels she's due (via Book Reporter). Jane makes her living walking dogs for the wealthy residents of Thornfield Estates, a southern gated community brimming with Stepford-like insincerity and charm. Jane quickly falls for the recently widowed Eddie Rochester, despite the rumors surrounding his famous wife's disappearance. As Jane and Eddie's lives become further intertwined, it becomes impossible for Jane to ignore some obvious truths about her new beau, or to keep out of the attic.

"The Wife Upstairs" is a masterful tale of horror, suspense, and romance that reads at an alarmingly quick pace (via Southern Review of Books). Its thrilling domestic noir plot contrasts with a genuine study of the lives of traumatized men and women, and what they will or won't do for love.

Purchase "The Wife Upstairs" by Rachel Hawkins at Barnes & Noble for $14.99.

Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda

The classic vampire trope gets a new lease on life with Claire Kohda's frightening "Woman, Eating." According to The Guardian, the novel is a poignant look at millennial angst that sharply observes the fractured lives and desires of young women.

The novel follows 23-year-old Lydia, a vampire and a recent art school graduate. Although she is a talented painter, Lydia is lonely and awkward with a relatable streak of introversion that keeps her from living the life she longs for (via Arts Fuse). She obtains an internship with an art gallery where she spends her days doing busy work, avoiding her creepy, lecherous boss, and daydreaming about being able to eat human food (via Kirkus Reviews). Lydia struggles with who she is, her thirst for blood, and her heartbreaking need for connection with other people.

"Woman, Eating" tackles a range of challenging topics, from sexual assault to mental illness. Although the novel is not horror in the traditional sense, it offers a fresh perspective on everyday terrors through the lens of an untraditional woman. Lydia's coming-of-age story also forces readers to question what it means to be a monster.

Purchase "Woman, Eating" by Claire Kohda on Amazon for $13.99.

Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

Nothing says "spooky Halloween read" quite like a whodunnit murder mystery. "The Woman in The Library" focuses on four enigmatic strangers who find themselves sequestered in the Boston Public Library after a murder takes place in the shadowy stacks. The group strikes up an unlikely friendship as authorities search the building, unaware that one of their new companions is the murderer being hunted.

According to Criminal Element, this novel is a meta-textual examination of modern writing. Although the story is initially told by Freddie, a writer who gives funny nicknames to her companions in the BPL's Reading Room before the murder takes place, it is soon revealed that Freddie is a character in a novel written by someone else. Author Hannah Tigone is attempting to write a novel while stuck in quarantine during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. She sends her initial chapters to a fan named Leo, a pushy but observant individual who offers plenty of unsolicited advice on the direction of her novel. In time, Leo and Hannah's relationship turns tense, and, according to Publisher's Weekly, his correspondence becomes profoundly disturbing.

Overall, every layer of "The Woman in the Library" is cleverly written. The juxtaposition between Hannah's real-life horror story and Freddie's is a captivating read from beginning to end. 

Purchase "The Woman in the Library" by Sulari Gentill on Amazon for $7.39.

The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

Die-hard Jane Austen fans will devour "The Murder of Mr. Wickham," a 19th-century murder mystery full of familiar characters. Claudia Gray skillfully kills off one of literature's most notorious villains (via Goodreads) in a somehow surprising way, while simultaneously breathing new life into a handful of Austen's most beloved characters.

In Gray's suspenseful tale, Mr. Knightley and Emma invite numerous friends and acquaintances to their home for the summer, including Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, the Wentworths, the Bertrams, and the Brandons. The youngest of the party include The Darcys' eldest son, Jonathan, and Juliet Tilney, on holiday from Northanger Abbey (via Always With a Book). Uninvited to the party is Mr. Wickham, a scheming con-man with unfortunate connections to each of those in attendance. His untimely end throws the entire house into upheaval. Although all of the guests are invested in solving the case and revealing his murderer, the bulk of the case falls to Jonathan and Juliet. The pair are determined to save an innocent person from hanging and will defy social propriety and etiquette to do so.

In accordance with the period, this murder mystery is relatively tame with few descriptions of gore or outright violence. Instead, it offers readers the chance for a cozy but cerebral whodunit while remaining true to the characters from the original novels.

Purchase "The Murder of Mr. Wickham" by Claudia Gray at Barnes & Noble for $15.30.

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

Mariana Enriquez dazzles readers with her wildly imaginative collection "Things We Lost in the Fire." The stories have a Shirley Jackson feel to them, each with a unique but understated blend of horror and humor (via Penguin Random House).

In "Things We Lost in the Fire," Enriquez focuses on the lives of contemporary Argentinian women. Enriquez weaves tales of disturbing disappearances, drug-fueled blackouts, black magic, and paranormal hauntings in a land ruled by corruption, violence, and military dictatorships. Elegant details push the collection firmly into horror territories, such as an abandoned house full of fingernails and teeth.

The stories in this collection are horrifying not only because of the stark, suspenseful way they are told, but because there is so much truth to them. The women in these tales are fighting against real horrors like domestic violence, hunger, economic inequality, murder, and poverty. According to the Kenyon Review, these characters witness real atrocities daily and are forced to choose where they direct their gaze as they navigate the treacherous landscape they call home.

Purchase "Things We Lost in the Fire" by Mariana Enriquez on Amazon for $12.97.

The Maid by Nita Prose

"The Maid" is a cozy murder mystery with an engaging plot and a truly lovable main character. The crime novel follows Molly Gray, a neurodivergent maid at a fancy urban hotel who loves her job and her recently deceased Gran (via NPR). Molly uses her position as a way to not only cope with people who so often baffle her but to blend into a world that makes no effort to understand her. One day, Molly discovers a dead guest during her shift. Due to a series of unfortunate events and Molly's poor understanding of social cues, she becomes the prime suspect in the murder (via Washington Independent Review of Books). 

As a reader, it is not difficult to figure out who the murderer is, nor is it hard to separate the good characters from the more unsavory personalities that seek to use Molly's quirks against her. But that's not the point of this novel. The true delight of this wholesome murder mystery is to watch Molly and her unrelenting optimism flourish in the most unlikely of scenarios.

Purchase "The Maid" by Nita Prose at Barnes & Noble for $12.99. 

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

"The Hunger" is a gripping retelling of the ill-fated Donner party and their disastrous journey out west. Described by King of Horror Stephen King as "deeply, deeply disturbing," this historical fiction novel contains all manner of spooky, creepy, and bone-chilling horrors, with a supernatural twist (via Google Books).

According to Locus Mag, the narrative kicks off in the spring of 1847 with the salvage party discovering a horrific landscape of scattered human bone and blood where the Donner party last made camp. It is a frightening indicator of what's to come, as well as a reminder that even reimagined, the story can only end one way. The story then goes back in time to highlight the diverse cast of characters, each with struggles, tragedies, and misguided pasts (via Kirkus Reviews). As the group travels further west and members of their party go missing or die gruesome deaths, the group dynamic shifts from cooperative to hostile, with brewing violence and fear at the heart of every future action.

Katsu moves through time with a fluid grace throughout "The Hunger," revealing key details of each character and their motives in a calculated manner. The story is tense and menacing, exposing the dark natures of people in desperate circumstances and the evil they are willing to embrace when all other options are gone.

Purchase "The Hunger" by Alma Katsu at Barnes & Noble for $17.

Alice by Christina Henry

Christina Henry's "Alice" is a dark, twisted retelling of Lewis Carrol's beloved cast of whimsical characters. According to Elitist Book Reviews, the story begins ten years after Alice's first ill-fated trip to a twisted version of Wonderland, a trip that left her physically and emotionally scarred. Trapped in a deplorable asylum, the only light in her drug-addled days are her conversations with her friend and fellow inmate, Hatcher.

When a fire allows Hatcher and Alice to break free from the asylum, the pair set off on a dangerous quest to slay the beast that threatens their home and their lives. Along the way, familiar characters arise, although not in the way the reader expects. The pair must outsmart a host of cruel, sadistic crime bosses that terrorize the city while uncovering the truth of what happened to Alice all those years ago.

This first foray into the Chronicles of Alice is a morbid affair with an intricate plot, nightmarish characters, and a menacing but well-built world. There are heavy themes throughout the novel, which make it a difficult read at times, although the budding romance between Hatcher and Alice helps lighten some of the horrific load (via Goodreads). Those that make it through this dark fantasy will be rewarded with a truly creep-tastic read.

Purchase "Alice" by Christina Henry on Amazon for $17.

Dreadful Young Ladies by Kelly Barnhill

Newbery Medalist Kelly Barnhill's stunning collection of short stories is perfect for any wild woman longing to escape into a world of magic, monsters, and mayhem. The haunting, provocative stories bend reality and champion the supernatural, all while covering base themes of hope, jealousy, love, death, and longing (via Workman Publishing).

According to Open Letters Review, "Dreadful Young Ladies" is a lyrical exploration of fantastical characters, including magicians, witches, ghosts, an anthropomorphized insect, and a romantic sasquatch with allergies. The majority of these characters are women or girls, many of whom fight back against traditional female roles and defy cultural expectations to follow their passions.

Barnhill's character-driven narratives range from dreamlike to nightmarish. Some stories, like the titular "Dreadful Young Ladies" and "Notes on the Untimely Death of Ronia Drake" have a dark fairy tale vibe. Other stories, like "Mrs. Sorenson," which explores a baffling romance between a widow and the elusive Sasquatch, are as enchanting as they are mildly disturbing.

Purchase "Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories" by Kelly Barnhill on Amazon for $15.95. 

Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey's fascinating thriller combines elements of true crime and ghost-like hauntings. This bone-chilling story uncovers the toxic layers of a broken family, utilizing supernatural horror to explore the genuine terror and emotional damage caused by a series of traumatic events (via BookPage). "Just Like Home" follows the story of Vera Crowder, the daughter of a famous serial killer who returns to her childhood home to care for her estranged, ailing mother (via Goodreads). Vera swore she'd never set foot in the house where so much pain and death occurred, but finds herself trying to solve its ominous mysteries and root out the rot buried beneath.

Vera quickly realizes this will not be an easy task. Despite being firmly rooted in reality, the Crowder house and its tenants defy logic. Unexplainable notes in her father's handwriting start appearing around the house while something menacing lurks underneath Vera's bed. The novel is maddeningly suspenseful with plenty of bleak, eerie, and claustrophobic descriptions to satisfy gothic horror fans.

Purchase "Just Like Home" by Sarah Gailey at Barnes and Noble for $26.99.

Number One Fan by Meg Elison

"Number One Fan" by Meg Elison is a terrifying horror fiction novel set against the backdrop of convention culture and the #MeToo movement (via Goodreads). Elison jumps headfirst into the action, dragging the terrified reader along for an exploration of rabid fandoms, unhinged stalkers, and graphic violence.

Bestselling author Eli Grey is on her way to a speaking engagement when she accepts a drink from her cab driver. When she awakens, she finds herself chained up in a stranger's basement. Her captor is familiar, but Eli can't place him. It soon becomes clear her captor is a fan of her novels, but he refuses to tell her what he wants. With no family or friends to miss her, Eli must figure out how to save herself before her captor takes everything she has for himself.

"Number One Fan" is frightening in its realism. The traumatic experience Eli endures in these pages is not outside the realm of possibility for many modern women, lending an extra layer of creep to the classic stalker trope.

Purchase "Number One Fan" by Meg Elison at Barnes & Noble for $11.99.

Little Bird by Tiffany Meuret

Tiffany Meuret's sensational dark fairy tales and penchant for monsters come to a head in "Little Bird," a fantastical story that Foreward Reviews calls "larger than life."

Josie Lauer is recently divorced, estranged from her fractured family, and a loner in every sense of the word. She copes with the loss of her father and her shattered marriage by drinking copious amounts of vodka. Josie sequesters herself in her home, avoiding contact with everyone from the grocery delivery person to her nosy new neighbor Sue. One day, a mysterious shrub sprouts in her barren backyard, bringing a talking skeleton with it. The sentient shrub's vines quickly take over Josie's yard and her life, complicating her self-imposed isolation. With the help of her annoying neighbor, who knows more than she lets on, and her skeleton friend Skelly, Josie must figure out why these strange events are happening to her before catastrophe strikes (via IPG Books).

"Little Bird" explores themes of grief, found family, and the paths we take to find our true selves. It is a delightfully bizarre story that is equal parts terror and wonder, perfect for wiling away a cold October night.

Purchase "Little Bird" by Tiffany Meuret at Barnes and Noble for $15.95.