There’s an energy in the air this time of year as the weather gets colder and skeletons and witches crowd porches. Conditions are ideal for a good scare. While horror movies and devilish pranks can offer passing thrills, for a more memorable experience, we recommend wending your way through the pages of a truly scary book. Here are our picks for the best Halloween reads.
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by Garth Stein
The Riddell family's ancestral home on the Puget Sound is filled with ghosts — living and dead, tangible and invisible. When 14-year-old Trevor comes to stay for the summer on the heels of his parents' separation, he stumbles into a web of family secrets. When he starts to pull the strings, will he be able to lay those spirits to rest? Or will the whole Riddell family unravel? This suspenseful coming-of-age novel from Seattle-based author Garth Stein (of The Art of Racing in the Rain
fame) is a perfect read for any fan of ghost stories, John Muir
, family dramas, or the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
– Madeline S.
Child of God
by Cormac McCarthy
Child of God
is as creepy as it is beautiful — Cormac McCarthy is good at that. Lester Ballard is falsely accused of rape, but that doesn't mean he isn't guilty of other crimes. McCarthy makes the main character an equal combination of scary, creepy, sad, and hilarious. This novel will give you the creeps for a long time after you have put it down. – Jeffrey J.
The Haunting of Hill House
by Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson is the Queen of Creepy. It's no wonder she penned what's widely regarded as one of the scariest books with one of the most chilling opening paragraphs of all time (just ask Stephen King). Part ghost story, part psychological thriller, The Haunting of Hill House
is a witch's brew of terror and hysteria. It’s a perfect execution of the American Gothic. This isn't just one of my favorite horror stories; it's one of my favorite books of all time. – Ronnie C.
When a book so poetically written as The Haunting of Hill House
can so deeply disturb, unsettle, and live inside of you like an invading yet welcome organism, you know true literary magic has been created. Such is the case with Hill House
. You will not soon forget its odd angled walls and ill-fitting door frames, those ghastly noises that wake you, the malicious presence next to you. Not to mention that it was written by a woman in the 1950s. A pioneer for women in horror literature, Shirley Jackson remains as relevant as ever; just like Hill House, she has stood for 100 years and will stand for 100 more. – Heather A.
by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Imagine you're living under the curse of a 17th-century witch with a grudge. Now imagine someone has just made her very, very unhappy... Yep, it's that scary. I was checking dark corners for Katherine for weeks. – Emily F.
In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories
by Alvin Schwartz
From the same author who brought us one of my childhood favorites, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
, comes a retold collection of short, slightly-humorous-but-also-scary stories suitable for younger audiences. My favorite tale is "The Green Ribbon." – Tiffany R.
Scary morbid silliness! These stories are made with the purpose of "jumping out" at the reader. They’re appropriate for children as young as 5-8, and older! –
by Joe Hill
was so scary, I could only read it when my husband was nearby. It is the greatest ghost story I have ever read. Joe Hill is a great author, and this is, in my opinion, his best book. – Gloria M.
The Heavenly Table
by Donald Ray Pollock
Donald Ray Pollock produces yet another brilliant book with The Heavenly Table
: a bleak, sordid story of poverty, violence, and misery; a distillation of all that is ugly within the human race, and Pollock is your tour guide to hell. The last 75 pages of this book were so harrowing, I vacillated between abject fear of what I knew was about to happen and an insistent urge to turn another page. It literally did make my heart pound and my stomach feel sick! – Dianah H.
by Josh Malerman
This book will keep you reading for hours — and awake for days. Good stuff! – Gary L.
This book is dark. Like, literally dark. Josh Malerman shows us that what you can't see is often much more terrifying than what you can.
– Milo D.
The Devil in the White City
by Erik Larson
The Devil in the White City
may be a narrative history about the Chicago World's Fair, but it scared the pants off of me. Serial killer Dr. H. H. Holmes is long dead, but Larson's evocative storytelling had me peeking into closets and burrowing under the covers as I read, late into the night. – Rhianna W.
by Susan Barker
There is a deep underlying spookiness to The Incarnations
by Susan Barker that kept me on the edge of my seat and eager to devour the entire book, to get at the core of the mystery. An unknown letter writer guides a Beijing taxi driver through a tour, via mysterious letters left in the cab, of the driver's purported past lives. The letters illustrate how the lives of the letter writer and the cab driver have intertwined over 1,000 years, during some of the greatest historical upheavals in Chinese history. The lives are fascinating stories unto themselves, each more wrenching than the one before, all interspersed with the cab driver's equally gripping current reality. The book is heartbreaking and amazing, and I now can't wait to read Susan Barker's other books
– Robin F.
by Kenneth Oppel and Jon Klassen
This book is spooky! A young boy starts hearing voices from a wasp's nest outside his window, and it turns out the wasps want to make a deal with him... This book is a page-turner, a thriller, and a great pick for the Halloween season. – Connor M.
by Bram Stoker
A key element in horror fiction that is sometimes overlooked is the presence of the unexplained or merely suggested, showing the reader the shadows without revealing what's hidden behind them. Stoker is a master of this in Dracula
— the story is at its disturbing best when it leaves something to the imagination. Plus, there's a scene near the beginning that predates Regan's backward crab-crawl in The Exorcist
by almost 70 years. – Helena F.W.
As I Descended
by Robin Talley
retelling. Queer characters. Hispanic characters. A main character with a disability. Creepy as hell. I couldn't stop simultaneously gasping and clapping and giving audible feedback. Five stars. – Lisa A.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism
by Grady Hendrix
First off, I have to say I don't usually read a lot of horror books. But I saw this one and knew I had to read it. It's about a teenage girl and her best friend in the 1980s. One of them is possessed and it's up to the other one to help. The story wasn't as "horror" as I had expected, but I'm completely okay with it. I wasn't looking for a super scary book. It does have moments that will freak you out, though. I really enjoyed the design of the first few pages. They're supposed to look like a yearbook from the 1980s, which is such a clever idea. I also loved how the chapters were titled after '80s songs. The story itself starts out a bit slow, but if you stick with it, you'll be pleasantly surprised. – Hannah B.
by Ezekiel Boone
Who can resist a black, flowing river of carnivorous spiders? "It's not just a bunch of spiders attacking people. They're hunting as a group. Like a pack. It's coordinated." The Hatching
made me remember why I find spiders so darn creepy, yet oddly I am eagerly awaiting book two. – Mecca A.
by Stephen King
is a wonderful mash-up of stories: haunted house, extra-sensory perception, family dynamics in an extreme isolation experience, full-on madness. This book has become part of our popular culture. It's still as scary as they come. – Frank W.
by Peter Clines
At first glance, this book seemed like a mash-up of the most popular tropes of the day. However, when I read it, I found that the heroes of the story had interesting powers and the unique characters carried the story with their distinct personalities. I recommend this title to those interested in horror or sci-fi or superheroes because the setting and plot have interesting pieces from all of those genres. – Zoe S.
by Michael McDowell
The Blackwater series from Michael McDowell is stellar Southern Gothic. The Caskey family of Perdido, Alabama, is haunted, or are they just dysfunctional and acting weird? The family manse is filled with paranormal activity, or is the house just settling and making spooky sounds? Author McDowell knew how to write page-turning haunted Southern Gothic, and I heartily recommend every one of his books. Be prepared to love this series for the rest of your life, as you'll never quite get doomed Perdido, Alabama, out of your mind. – Tracey T.