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10 great horror books to read this October

Cozy up with a scary book this spooky season

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It’s that time of year again!

There’s a chill in the air, everything smells a bit like apple cider donuts and wood smoke, people have the theme from Practical Magic on repeat, the sun is setting earlier, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that something ancient and terrible is watching you from just out of sight as you’re walking home at night. That’s right, folks: Spooky season is finally upon us!

While there’s truly no hard-and-fast rule on the best time of year to read scary stories, if you’re anything like me, you like to pack in as many as possible in the days leading up to Halloween. Below you’ll find a list of 10 recent horror novels that are perfect for the month of October (and beyond).

A Guest in the House by Emily Carroll

Cover art for Emily Carroll’s A Guest in the House. A gray person walks down a gray staircase, while a large being made of bright colors and dripping red peers over the staircase at them. Image: First Second

Nine years ago, Emily Carroll released a truly chilling anthology of gorgeously illustrated and grotesquely visceral horror stories titled Through the Woods. If, like me, you were a fan of this collection (I still think about the story “His Face All Red” fairly regularly), then you’ll rejoice to hear that Carroll’s recent adult graphic novel is every bit as unsettling as her early work.

A Guest in the House tells the story of Abby, a quiet and lonely young woman who, upon learning about the sudden death of her new husband’s first wife, Sheila, begins to question his innocence. Was it really natural causes that killed her, or something much more sinister? Were all of her possessions truly destroyed in a fire? Why does he live by a lake if he doesn’t swim, and why won’t he let his daughter go near the water? As Abby adjusts to married life, her obsession with Sheila continues to grow until a startling encounter with her predecessor’s ghost changes everything.

Taking inspiration from the gothic tales that have come before it, and punctuated by startling shocks of color amid black-and-white pages, A Guest in the House is a perfect blend of domestic and supernatural horror. There’s a pervasive sense of wrongness simmering just under the surface of this story that will make readers’ skin crawl from the first page.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

Cover image for Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions, which depicts five duplicate images of the same person wearing a bonnet and a dress and holding an apple. Image: Penguin Random House

Trust me when I say that you’ll be sleeping with the lights on and listening intently to every ambient sound your house makes while you’re reading this book.

After the sudden and mysterious death of her husband, Elsie is sent to his family’s sprawling country estate, The Bridge, to see out the final months of her pregnancy away from the overwhelming hustle and bustle of London. What she discovers upon arrival is a manor house falling into disrepair and a staff that already seems to resent her very presence despite having never met her before. Worse still is the ominous wooden creation lying in wait behind a locked door — a life-size, free-standing, flat figure that has been painted in painstaking detail to look as realistically human as possible. If that isn’t terrifying enough, it bears an uncanny resemblance to Elsie herself. While the wooden figure seems harmless and stationary at first, that swiftly changes as more begin to appear and move on their own throughout the house.

The Militia House by John Milas

Cover image for John Milas’ The Militia House, a red background with a group of helicopters in an oval that make them look kind of like bugs with wings and legs. Image: Henry Holt & Company

The year is 2010, and Cpl. Loyette and his unit are counting down the days until their time in Afghanistan finally comes to an end.

Their days are spent doing little more than loading and unloading cargo from helicopters, so when they hear rumors of a haunted Soviet-era militia house near their base, they jump at the opportunity to explore it. While nothing of note happens when they enter the old building, their unease and distrust in one another begins to grow in the days after. Porcupine quills are discovered around their base, strange drawings begin to appear on the walls, and some of the men are plagued by horrendous night terrors. Loyette himself is determined to write off his company’s behavior as a combination of boredom and exhaustion, but there’s something about the old building that he cannot ignore.

John Milas’ debut novel, The Militia House, is truly unlike any other haunted house novel. Milas seamlessly blends the horrors of war with psychological turmoil, and the result is a deeply unsettling and propulsive story that elegantly tackles the trauma that young service members face — both when abroad and coming home — and the supernatural.

The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

Cover image for Cassandra Khaw’s The Salt Grows Heavy. It is an image comprised of blocks set against a red background. A plague doctor looks to the left while a skeletal figure picks up what looks like a head from a pile of block heads. Image: Tor Nightfire

Set in a world where fairy-tale creatures have come to life, The Salt Grows Heavy follows a mermaid who has cut out her own tongue and a mysterious plague doctor as they traverse a desolate frozen wasteland together. While their conversation is decidedly one-sided, the chemistry between them as their journey unfolds is undeniable. At the bloody heart of this tale, like so many fables that have come before it, is a love story. Along the way, the mermaid and the plague doctor stumble across a village of bloodthirsty children — think Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, but much, much worse — and the terrifying, cannibalistic saints who watch over them.

With masterfully creepy stories like Nothing but Blackened Teeth, Hammers on Bone, The Salt Grows Heavy, and The Dead Take the A Train (out Oct. 3 and co-written with Richard Kadrey) under their belt, Cassandra Khaw is easily one of the most exciting voices in the horror world today. The Salt Grows Heavy stands out in particular for its spectacular world-building and cringe-worthy depictions of body horror — this one isn’t for the faint of heart. While it’s only 112 pages, you’ll wish there were 200 more to go by the end of it.

Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison

Cover image for Rachel Harrison’s Black Sheep. It features an angry-looking black sheep with red eyes against a pink background with black dots. Image: Berkley Books

It’s fair to say that Vesper Wright had one hell of a childhood.

Her mother, Constance, is a beloved horror movie star who never gave Vesper the time of day and filled her home with monster movie paraphernalia, Vesper’s father was never around, and she was raised in a remote, strictly religious community. Vesper ran away from home at the age of 18, but when an envelope appears on her doorstep containing a wedding invitation, she decides to tempt fate and return to the farm where she grew up.

When Vesper’s return reveals the ugly truth about her family and a deadly secret that has been kept from her all her life, she finds herself torn between the people who love her and saving the world.

Rachel Harrison is the queen of deliciously pulpy horror that is a blast to read from start to finish, and she’s back once again with Black Sheep. It’s a gory and often laugh-out-loud-funny love letter to cult-classic horror films, scream queens, and indestructible final girls.

Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen

Cover image for Samantha Allen’s Patricia Wants to Cuddle. Set against a teal background, it shows a woman taking a selfie while being held in the hand of a bigfoot-like creature. Image: Zando

Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen contains multitudes. It is, first and foremost, a compulsively readable horror novel that was clearly inspired by box-office slashers. It’s also a queer rom-com, satirical to its core, and contains biting commentary on America’s obsession with sensational reality TV shows such as The Bachelor. There also happens to be a murderous, misunderstood lady Bigfoot whose love language is physical affection.

Set in the heart of the Pacific Northwest, Patricia Wants to Cuddle tells the story of the final four women in a cutthroat reality dating competition. Each woman has her own motivation to win — brand sponsorships and true love included — but their plans are thrown for a loop when dead bodies begin to appear. Within the first pages of Patricia Wants to Cuddle, a severed arm is spotted bobbing along the coast, and things only get more violent from there. Watching them from the shadows is the titular Patricia, and the locals who will do anything in their power, no matter the cost, to protect her.

Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas

Cover image for Isabel Cañas’ Vampires of El Norte. A woman wearing a long red dress walks in the desert, as lightning strikes behind her. Image: Berkley Books

Peanut butter and chocolate. Apple pie and vanilla ice cream. Biscuits and gravy. There are some things that go perfectly together, and now, thanks to Isabel Cañas, vampires and cowboys can be added to that list. In Vampires of El Norte, Cañas once again blends historical fiction, romance, and horror to fantastic, swoon-worthy results.

Set along the Texas-Mexico border during the 1840s, Vampires of El Norte tells the story of Nena, a wealthy rancher’s daughter, and Néstor, a ranch hand on the farm where she lives. It’s clear from the first pages of this book that Nena and Néstor are meant to be together — they’re practically inseparable — despite her father’s disapproval of their relationship. When Nena is attacked by a terrifying, bloodsucking monster, the young vaquero is forced to go on the run to save his own life. It’s only when the United States attacks Mexico six years later that the two finally meet again. Néstor, haunted by the memory of his childhood sweetheart, is rightfully shocked to find her very much alive and furious with him for seemingly abandoning her. Miscommunication and stubbornness aside, the tension and chemistry between them is still palpable. Their reunion is made infinitely more complicated, however, when Mexican soldiers begin to fall mysteriously ill and the creature from Nena and Néstor’s past threatens their future.

Chlorine by Jade Song

Cover image for Jade Song’s Chlorine, featuring a large fin in the ocean waves. Image: William Morrow & Company

If horror stories over the years have told us anything, teenage girls are truly some of the toughest and most terrifying people on the planet. Chlorine’s main character, Ren Yu, is no exception.

Chlorine is a dark and deeply unsettling sapphic coming-of-age tale about an obsessive and manipulative young woman who will do whatever it takes to prove to her friends and family that she is actually a mermaid. It is a fever dream of a book, and Ren’s quest for a tail becomes increasingly intense until it culminates in a uniquely grotesque and viscerally upsetting scene best left for you to discover on your own. Caught in Ren’s wake is her best friend, Cathy, who is struggling with her own feelings for Ren. As the two girls grow closer, Cathy finds herself torn between what is best for Ren and her friend’s insatiable desire to return to the water.

Monstrilio by Gerardo Sámano Córdova

Cover image for Gerardo Sámano Córdova’s Monstrilio, which features a little monster with bat ears at the bottom of the page, and colored shapes scattered around the cover. Image: Zando

Told in four parts and in four distinct voices, Gerardo Sámano Córdova’s debut literary horror novel, Monstrilio, is a work of art, a pitch-perfect look at what makes a family and the lengths that we will go to for those we love.

Few things in this world are more shattering than the loss of a child. When Magos’ son dies, she cuts out a piece of his lung to keep with her in a startling act of anguish and violence. It’s enough to drive away her husband — who’s already grappling with the weight of his own grief — and their relationship crumbles as a result. When the lung begins to grow limbs (in an image not unlike the novelty grow-a-boyfriend toys), a thin layer of fur, and gains some semblance of sentience, Magos attempts to hide the creature in her decaying family home. But keeping Monstrilio, who begins to resemble her deceased son, secret and safe from the general public who would undoubtedly kill him becomes increasingly more difficult as his insatiable hunger continues to grow.

Whalefall by Daniel Kraus

Cover image for Daniel Kraus’ Whalefall, which features a giant whale as a person i nscuba gear starts to fall towards the whale’s mouth. Image: MTV Books

Whalefall is quite unlike any of the other horror novels on this list. There is no body horror or possessions here. There are no vampires or monsters hiding in the shadows. Instead, there is an utterly oblivious, 60-ton sperm whale and the man it accidentally swallows alive.

A cramped, heart-pounding, and compulsively readable survival-horror story, Whalefall begins as Jay Gardiner, wracked with guilt over his complicated relationship with his recently deceased father, sets out on a quest to recover his remains off the coast of Monastery Beach. The dive begins without incident, but quickly takes a turn when Jay finds himself grappled in the tentacles of a giant squid. As if that isn’t terrifying enough, things go from bad to much, much worse when the squid and Jay are both drawn into the mouth of a hungry whale in a moment that feels straight out of Moby Dick. Now quite literally trapped in the belly of a whale, Jay only has an hour of oxygen to try and escape a watery grave.

Whalefall is a tale of love and resilience that will make readers who are entranced by the ocean wonder what lurks just out of sight below the waves.


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