Spooky Books to Read Under the Sheets

Keep the Halloween spirit going all year long with these spine-tingling tales.

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November 14, 2019
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The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

Kiersten White reimagines Mary Shelley’s 1818 masterpiece with a new and equally unforgettable narrator: In this version of the tale, we meet brilliant and troubled Victor Frankenstein via a battered young orphan, Elizabeth, who joins his wealthy family to be his companion. When Victor leaves home to pursue his studies and goes mysteriously silent, Elizabeth believes that her hard-earned safety hangs in the balance all over again — and when she tracks him down and learns the nature of his work, she finds that she’s absolutely right. Forget what you think you know about Shelley’s Gothic classic; through Elizabeth’s eyes, it’s another story entirely.

Buy It: Barnes & Noble, $10.99

A Cosmology of Monsters

Here’s the thing about creating and operating a haunted house: Much as you might think the horrors you’re dreaming up will stay put when you lock up and turn out the lights, they might not have the slightest interest in being left behind. Meet the Turner family and The Wandering Dark, the prophetically-named Halloween attraction that begins as their livelihood and becomes the embodiment of their clan’s curse. As Shaun Hamill’s title suggests, there’s more than a hint of Lovecraftian horror creeping through this tragedy (and explicit references to that author’s work, in fact). As Hamill fan Stephen King has noted, it’s also a fine read for John Irving fans — there’s a tapestry of lifelong family trauma to unravel here, too.

BUY IT: Barnes & Noble, $24.99

Paperbacks From Hell

Grady Hendrix is both a horror author and a devoted book collector, and his affectionate and hilarious tour of the weirdest, wildest pulp-paperback covers of the ‘70s and ‘80s is a must-have for anyone who’s ever thought, “well, I was in search of some traditional ghost stories, but now I’m pretty sure I have to get to the bottom of this knife-wielding killer crab situation.” Keep his commentary and recommendations in mind: This volume has spawned mass-market, limited-edition reissues of five titles chosen by Hendrix and fellow connoisseur Will Errickson (author of Too Much Horror Fiction, a like-minded blog) featuring all-new intros. Your bookshelves might never recover.

BUY IT: Barnes & Noble, $22.49

The Twisted Ones

Fans of haunting tales-within-tales like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves will thrill to the story of Melissa (better known as Mouse), a book editor tasked with sifting through her grandparents’ estate in a remote part of North Carolina. Her very real late step-grandfather happens to be Frederick Cotgrave, one of the main characters of a horrifying 1904 Arthur Machen short story called “The White People,” which also features a story within a story. Still following? As Mouse disappears down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, the supposedly-imagined tales she reads wriggle out of folklore and begin to gnaw away at her world. This modern homage to a classic is destined to be a classic in its own right: As Chuck Wendig put it, “The devil is waiting in between these pages.”

BUY IT: Barnes & Noble, $16.99

Soon

Deep in the West Australian outback, the townspeople of Nebulah are fighting for their lives: Every night since the solstice nine months ago, a lethal mist has rolled down the streets to claim anyone foolish enough to venture outside. Corpses are never found, but the victims’ anguished forms join the mist and add to its horror. As Lois Murphy’s novel begins, a mere six survivors who can’t afford to relocate are trying — and failing — to stick together and keep each other safe. Why has the rest of the world forgotten them? Murphy’s mist is quite literally deadly, but it’s also a haunting metaphor for the insidiously non-supernatural ways in which we can be trapped.

BUY IT: Barnes & Noble, $14.95

A Lush and Seething Hell

John Hornor Jacobs’s one-two punch of cosmic-horror novellas are as lyrical as they are unsettling. In the Southern-gothic With My Heart Struck Sorrow, he follows an ethnomusicologist on his obsessive quest to dredge up the uncanny origins of the real folk song “Stagger Lee” (which tells the story of an 1895 murder). What he finds is much deeper, and darker, than the tale of a crime. The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, in turn, trails a teacher who returns to her (fictional) South American homeland and becomes entangled in the fate of its most famous poet, a haunted man who has brought about his own demise by translating a book of occult knowledge. Together, they add a decidedly sinister undertone to William Faulkner’s famous observation that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

BUY IT: Barnes & Noble, $19.99

Imaginary Friend

Seven-year-old Christopher’s luckless mother has moved with her son to small-town Pennsylvania. Life is unceasingly grim until Christopher gets lost in an eerie forest — and returns, six days later, with tales of a “nice man” who helped him. Suddenly, his difficulties at school melt away, his mom wins the lottery — oh, and he seems to have rekindled an ancient and gruesome war between unearthly forces that could bring about the apocalypse. Previously known for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, author Stephen Chbosky took his sweet time (two decades, to be exact) dreaming up and debuting its successor, but the nightmarish world he’s created is worth the wait.

BUY IT: Barnes & Noble, $24

Ninth House

After a near-death experience, Galaxy “Alex” Stern — a 20-year-old dropout and former junkie — receives an invitation to attend Yale. Say what? She can see ghosts, and she’s being recruited to join Lethe, a group that regulates the university’s other, notorious “secret societies” (think Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key, and so on), which are much, much more sinister than rumor and pop culture have previously led the world to believe. Leigh Bardugo is already getting raves for the alternate reality she creates for her protagonist, but it’s that mesmerizing protagonist herself who gives the story its emotional, terrifying heft — and happily, she’ll be coming to life in a TV series of her own (and having more adventures on the page) soon.

BUY IT: Barnes & Noble, $19.59

Song for the Unraveling of the World

Short-story collections offer an especially fiendish variety of scares, as the horrors they present develop quickly: Every descriptor must do its work fast. True to form, Brian Evenson wastes no time getting weird in the first of his 22 tales, which begins with “No matter which way we turned the girl, she didn’t have a face.” This eclectic, unsettling collection (which swoops in and out of horror, fantasy, mystery and more) is both impeccably crafted on a line-by-line level and much more disturbing than the sum of its parts.

BUY IT: Barnes & Noble, $15.26

The Poison Thread

Meet Dorothea Truelove, a comely do-gooder and amateur phrenologist, and Ruth Butterham, a penniless, 16-year-old seamstress imprisoned for murder. Dorothea hopes to understand Ruth’s crime by studying the shape of her head, while Ruth — well, Ruth reveals that she can and has killed people by stitching her darkest impulses into clothing. Laura Purcell drew on the true story of an 18th-century matricide in developing her unreliable narrators, and the dark relationship that develops between is a deliciously new take on Victorian horror.

BUY IT: Barnes & Noble, $15.88

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