So I know the holidays are all cozy and cute, and there are presents, and we tell the people who we love that we love them. And that’s nice! Sure! But also — the holidays can be pretty creepy too. For one, Santa Claus sees you when you’re sleeping? Creepy! All You Want For Christmas Is Me? Kidnappy! Why are there so many birds being gifted during the 12 days of Christmas? Birds are weird. And I don’t think I need to get into “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
We wanted to a do a little counter-programming this holiday season — just a small dash of spice for each dose of holiday cheer. Below, you’ll find 9 of our favorite seasonally appropriate horror books to read while curled up by a fire.
Set in a small town in Vermont, this is a historical mystery that gets deeper and creepier the more nineteen-year-old Ruthie reads the diary of a woman found dead outside the home where Ruthie now lives with her mother and sister. Can she figure out what happened to the dead woman back in 1908? And what happens when she realizes that the threats the woman faced are still alive and well in the present tense? Can she protect herself and her family too? This book is so atmospheric and twisty and haunting.
The Terror takes the idea of chilling to a whole new level. Inspired by Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition, this book, set in the mid-1800s, follows the crews of two ship crews, fighting for survival after they become stuck in the Artic. The crew face threats from all sides: supernatural threats that reminded of The Thing or The Descent (both great horror movies in their own right!), on-board threats from fellow passengers, dwindling supplies, and the terrifying, fatal landscape that surrounds them. This book is meaty and juicy and terrifying and thick enough to keep many of your chilly nights in front of a roaring fireplace (a vibe I’m wishing for you!) occupied.
Oh man, do I need to justify including this one on the list? Yes? Okay, well: this book is a classic for a reason and worth reading, whether or not you love the movie, too (King famously was not a fan of Kubrick’s interpretation). Jack Torrance gets a job at the Overlook Hotel during the off-season; all he has to do is take care of the spooky, empty hotel and spend time with his family. But then a winter storm socks them in. And then... things go south. Quickly. Unnervingly. Ickily. A perfect, snowy haunted hotel story to keep you warm this season.
Check out Stephen King’s playlist that he put together for us to celebrate the publication of the sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep.
I honestly don’t know if there’s a kind of mystery that I love more than a mystery where all the characters are locked into a house (or snowed in!) and murders start happening — everyone is in danger, everyone is a suspect! So this new mystery from Lucy Foley was an easy win for me. A group of 30-somethings meet up at a ski lodge over the New Year, a tradition they’ve had for nearly a decade, but when a surprise blizzard snows them in and bodies start cropping up, it’s open secrets on all the secrets and resentments they’ve been burying all these years. This one is juicy and fun.
This book is the ultimate creepy, gritty, vampire book to read while bundled under layers and layers of blankets (you will not want to be able to hear your neighbors moving around and living their lives while reading this). This one is truly an all-timer when it comes to vampire lit — a classic for a reason!— it’s set in the 80s, in a Swedish suburb, the narrative jumps around its POVs (which is super fun when you’re in the POV of a blood-thirsty character), but mostly focuses on a young boy and his fledgling friendship/maybe-romance with the new girl next door, who has some strange not-so-human qualities about her. Go in not knowing much, but expecting a ride; you won’t be disappointed.
Set in post-WW1 France, this is one of the more contemplative, moodier books on this list. When Freddie gets trapped in the Pyrenees during a snowstorm, he finds refuge in a nearby village, where he meets Fabrissa. The pair stay up talking overnight, revealing this book to be part ghost story, part history, part character study, and all enthralling. This atmospheric book is incredibly eerie, and seeped in the grief and strangeness of those years that followed “the war to end all wars.” A true ghost story.
A post-apocalyptic thriller set in a small northern Anishinaabe reserve. As the power in the community goes out — first the TV, then the cell phones, then the landlines — the community is increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, a situation made even more bleak by the promise of a difficult and cold winter. And then: a visitor arrives, a white man who is a doomsday prepper, and in the visitor’s wake comes conflict, violence, and panic. As I was reading, I kept being reminded of Station Eleven, which is probably the best compliment I can give a book. The atmosphere in this book is so, so good and so spooky. I was completely enthralled throughout.
A medical institute in the frozen North. A dead doctor and a missing body. A hungry parasite and a chateau where it can find prey. This terrifying debut — a pitch-perfect gothic horror — from Hiron Ennes will truly chill you to the bone. This book surprised me at every turn; it’s filled with “what the heck” and “how did that happen” moments. Guaranteed to keep you up at night, both because you won’t be able to put the book down, and because you won’t want to turn your light out anyway.
This book hits all of my sweet spots, including but not limited to an isolated sanatorium-turned-hotel, a missing girl, estranged familiy, and an impending snowstorm. And at the center of it all is police detective Elin Warner; all she wants is to celebrate her brother’s engagement, but we wouldn’t be reading this book if she got her wish. The story is claustrophobic, page-turning fun.
If you want some extra snow credit, get your preorders in now for Don't Fear the Reaper, Stephen Graham Jones's terrifying sequel to My Heart is a Chainsaw.