The Ultimate Guide to Halloween Reading
For fans of any genre
“When the witches go riding, and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers 'tis near Halloween.” Yes my ghouls, girls and goblins… It is that time of year again… Whenever the days start to lengthen, the leaves start to turn and the pumpkins come out, many a readers favourite time of the year has arrived. As someone who adores books with a deeply immersive atmosphere, either magical, creepy or otherwise, I can certainly see why. Halloween recommendations was one of my first dedicated posts ever two years ago, and will for that reason always have a special place in my heart. Each year, I’ve made it my mission to put together a recommendation list for readers of a variety of readers. From the horror-veteran, who wants their pants scared off them, to the “scaredy-cat” that just wants a good atmospheric read: we all deserve a happily bookish Halloween.
This year’s list is larger than ever before, including 40 books, divided over 10 categories, and even then I had a hard time narrowing some of them down. All of the following titles are based on my personal recommendations, and I’ve tried to include some lesser known books wherever I could. All titles will be linked to their corresponding Goodreads pages, where you can find more information, reviews and links for purchase.
A Scary-free Halloween: all of the atmosphere, none of the scares...
In spite of what this time of year might make you believe, not everybody is here for your typical Halloween scares. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a nice atmospheric read that has all of the magic, but none of the scares. If this sounds like you, here are four suggestions that are less trick, and more treat:
The Nightcircus – Erin Morgenstern One of my all-time favourite books, and a go to for non-scary Halloween recommendations is The Nightcircus by Erin Morgenstern. Against the backdrop of a circus that only appears at night, we follow the lives of two young magicians, tangled in a high stakes game of magic, love and dreams.
Spellbook of the Lost and Found – Moira Fowley Doyle If you want witches, but not in the scary sense, Spellbook of the Lost and Found is just what the doctor ordered. Set in Ireland, we follow three teenage girls who find a spellbook that promises to “conjure back lost things”. Each of the girls carries with them their own loss, and their own motivation for bringing it back. Perhaps however, not everything that was lost, was meant to be re-found.
Eleanor – Jason Gurley Eleanor combines literary fiction with magical realism-elements like I’ve never read before, in the story of family tragedy and sisterly grief that swells and calls like the ocean. Despite not being scary in the slightest, with its melancholic seaside setting and impactful story, Eleanor is a one of the most haunting books I’ve read over the past few years.
When the moon was ours – Anna Marie McLemore When the Moon was Ours is one of those magical realism stories that just oozes magic from every single page. A girl who grows roses from her wrists, a boy who hangs the town with his handpainted moons, a family of witches and secrets that go back years in the past. All of this written in Anna Marie McLemores uniquely lush and magical writingstyle makes this a perfect atmospheric read for me. The same can be said for her other works including The Weight of Feathers and Wild Beauty.
Middlegrade spook: for ghoulies big and small (8 years and up)
The Witches – Roald Dahl The Witches is almost a classic at this point, and for good reason. This delightful tale follows a brave young boy and his spunky grandmother on the hunt for witches. Not the type you read about in storybooks, mind you… “The real kind of witches”. Roald Dahl manages to create a story that is witchy, witty and just a bit scary, for young and old. 7-year-old me was terrified, 9-year-old-and-up me loved this story.
Silverwing – Kenneth Oppel Do you want to read something Halloween-themed, but not necessarily scary? I have just the right fit for you! Silverwing follows the adventures of a bat (yes, a bat!). I remember thinking that would be so boring, and being proven more than wrong, as this became one of my favourite books as a kid. These bat-characters have more personality and depth to them, than many a human character I’ve read about and truly felt like my friends by the end of this series. Again: not the creepiest book of them all, but definitely fitting for this Halloween-theme.
The Jumbies – Tracey Baptiste This wonderfully creepy, yet delightful novel has its roots in Caribbean folklore, and follows a brave young heroine who must protect her island home from the mysterious trickster-boogiemen known as “jumbies”. Beautiful writing, friendship, bravery, an original take on a lesser known myth and júst the right amount of scares, make this one of my favourite Halloween reads of the year.
Small Spaces – Katherine Arden A schooltrip takes a turn for the spooky for our smart and brave protagonist Ollie, as their bus breaks down in the middle of a cornfield. What follows is an adventure involving scarecrows, a mysterious book and the warning to “avoid large places, stick to the small”. This one is definitely the spookiest of the bunch, so reading this with a parent might be a good idea.
Young Adult Creeps: Sleepless nights for young adult readers (15 years and up)
Sawkill Girls – Claire LeGrand This novel dominated the YA-community upon its release around Halloween last year, and believe me: that hype was deserved. We follow three girls on the island of Sawkill Rock: “where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.” I don’t want to give anything else away, other than the fact that it kept me reading until the late hours. I can also highly recommend the audiobook for maximal immersion!
Beware the Wild – Natalie C. Parker A boy goes missing in a Lousiana swamp. Afterwards, nobody but his sister seems to remember he ever existed at all… This supernatural thriller pulled me in with that description, and kept me hooked to the end.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor Heads up to any and all YA-fantasy readers: this is one trilogy that you cannot miss out on. “Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.” All I want to add to this synopsis is the fact that it’s the single series dealing with angels/demons that hasn’t made me cringe away from it. If you haven’t gotten to this series just yet, this time of year is the perfect time to start: it’s absolutely worth your time!
Other Words for Smoke – Sarah Marie Griffin My current read as of the time of reading this, but I’ve been enjoying it enough so far to include it in this list anyway, as I feel like this is the perfect time to read this. Twins, witches, haunted houses and black “cats” form the décor of a beautiful coming of age story that will give you more feelings than just creeps…
Literar(il)y chills: gothic literary fiction in a modern coat of paint
The following is my personal favourite category to read from, so I may have snuck a few extra books in here… These six gorgeously crafted works all belong in the (modern) literary fiction category, but all have that eerie, gothic vibe to them.
Things in Jars – Jess Kidd In nineteenth century London, a female detective gets wrapped up in the mysterious case of a kidnapped child, rumoured to be a little less than human. What follows is a journey involving obsessive anatomists, creatures in jars, melancholic ghosts and the lurking shadow of our detectives own past. I adored everything about this intricately woven narrative and its unusual cast of characters. I genuinely hope this book finds its way into the hands of many this fall, as it’s one that deserves a lot more attention than it’s gotten so far.
House of Glass – Susan Fletcher Another severely underrated gothic novel that would be perfect for this time of year. House of Glass follows a young woman who, over the summer of 1914, is summoned to an isolated manor to fill the greenhouse with exotic plants. Soon however, she finds not everything around the manor is as it seems. Beautifully atmospheric and descriptive and full of character.
Melmoth – Sarah Perry Sarah Perry made a name for herself in the literary world with her bestselling novel The Essex Serpent. Although not as strong as the former, Melmoth is Perry’s latest work and lends itself even better to be a Halloween read. Young English translator Helen discovers a strange collection of letters from different time periods among her work. Not only do all of them share themes of guilt, exile and redemption, they also share the presence of an ominous creature, old as the numbering of days and straight from the depths of occult folklore: Melmoth the Witness. Who is Melmoth? What is her purpose? Is she a product of folktales, or maybe something more to Helen… Sarah Perry shows herself again to be a fantastic writer, both in her technical literary skill as her ability to craft sentences that are a joy to read.
The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea Iceland, 1686. Rosa, a village girl from an impoverished family, is send off into a marriage of financial convenience. Rosa’s new found life does not come easy to her, as she has to deal with the distrust and unwelcoming attitude of the isolated community she’s thrust into. Rumors of witchcraft and misdeeds are mumbled around town, seemingly having Rosa’s new husband Jón at the center of them. What is Jón hiding? What’s in the attic that is so private Rosa is never allowed up there? And most importantly: what happened to Jón’s previous wife Anna, that nobody seems to dare to speak of.
Dark Water – Elizabeth Lowry I mentioned this title in last years list, as it was a fresh release at the time, but as it was still on my TBR then, I couldn’t give you my recommendation on it yet. I’ll make up for that by including it in this year’s list, as this is still book few people seem to know about. Dark Water has the scariest setting I can personally imagine: a month’s long journey on a ship at sea, as the madness of the sheer isolation starts to take its toll on the crew. Claustrophobic, paranoia-inducing and even more chilling once you think about the true events that formed the inspiration for this piece of fiction.
Everything Under – Daisy Johnson Last but not least in this category: another favourite of mine. I have talked at length about this novel before, so I’ll keep it short here. Everything Under is an exploration of the murky depths of memory, set in an equally gloomy and atmospheric world of canalboats, muddy riverbanks and creatures of folklore that may or may not lurk in the waters. If you like the idea of a stunningly written novel about mother-daughter relationships, folklore and the meaning of language in life, this one is for you.
This scary world we live in: (non-paranormal) realistic thrillers
Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane Shutter Island has been a constant factor in all of my Halloween recommendations over the years, yet I just can’t bring myself to not include it again. One of my all-time favourite thrillers follows detective Daniels to the titular island, Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to investigate the disappearance of a patient. What follows will bend not only the characters minds, but yours as well. I also highly recommend the movie adaptation, which is perhaps even better than the book.
Force of Nature – Jane Harper 5 women walk into the forest on a teambuilding-hike. A few days later, only 4 return… Follow the footsteps of Australian detective Aaron Falke into the rugged terrain of the Giralang Ranges and uncover what forces of nature acted upon the five, to lead to the tragedy that occurred. This book will remind you that our civilized and cultured manners only go skin deep and primal instinct are still just inches beneath the surface.
The Girls with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larson The start of Stieg Larson’s famous Millenium Trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hooks readers in from the start, and does not let go. Combining the (by now) iconic characters of Michael and Lisbeth Salander with the intricate plot that covers the political, the criminal and the psychological, makes for an amazing thriller. I do have to say that this trilogy is not for the faint of heart, and covers some very gruesome topics and behavior with such callous ease that it was too much for me the first time. If you worry about triggering content, please do your research before delving into this one.
Ice Cold – Tess Gerritsen It must have been at least 10 years since I read this book for the first time, and it still remains fresh in my brain due to the terrifying and mystifying concept and highly atmospheric execution. Although this is part of a series, the Rizolli and Isles novels can be read as standalones just fine. In this one, medical examiner Maura Isles’s skit-rip with her friends gets cut short when their SUV strands them on a snow covered mountain, miles from the nearest refuge. As the group desperately hikes into the valley below to find shelter form an upcoming blizzard, they come across an remote village where the inhabitants seem to have disappeared into thin air. What is this village, what happened here, and will our protagonists find out in time to make it out alive…?