20 scary books and horror novels to read this Halloween

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You may have stocked up on treats, inflated the giant skeleton in your front yard, and dusted off your old “Monster Mash” seven-inch, but if you’re a book lover, your Halloween planning isn’t complete until you’ve shored up your spooky reading list.

Luckily, you still have time. There’s no greater Halloween pleasure than reading a scary horror novel in between trips to the front door to give candy to trick-or-treaters. You can’t go wrong with the classics or the suggestions from a horror master, but if you’re looking for something a little more contemporary, there’s more than enough to choose from.

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This year, authors have wasted no time bringing the scares to readers whose favorite part of the seat is the edge. Here are 20 horror books from 2023 to read under a blanket at home (or, if you’re really brave, at that abandoned amusement park near the old cemetery that the locals prefer not to talk about). 

Isabel Cañas, “Vampires of El Norte” (Berkeley)

Cañas’ follow-up to her well-received “The Hacienda” is a Western with a twist. Nena, a woman in 1840s Mexico, is thought dead by her partner, Néstor, after she’s attacked by a vampire. But she survived and encounters her former beau years later as monsters lay siege to the Rio Grande Valley.

V. Castro, “The Haunting of Alejandra” (Del Rey)

The title character in Castro’s latest novel is a profoundly depressed woman who is haunted by La Llorona, the vengeful ghost of Mexican legend. Alejandra soon learns that she’s not the only woman in her family to deal with the specter.

Johnny Compton, “The Spite House” (Tor Nightfire)

This debut novel follows Eric, a man who agrees to take a job living in a supposedly haunted house in the Texas Hill Country and recording the supernatural activities he witnesses there. Eric doesn’t at first realize that there’s much more to the house than he’s been told.

Tananarive Due, “The Wishing Pool and Other Stories” (Akashic Books)

The latest book from acclaimed author Due, who teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA, contains previously published and new stories that feature her knack for scary prose and clever twist endings. Due’s next novel, “The Reformatory,” which is set in a cruel reform school in the Jim Crow South, is slated for publication by Gallery/Saga Press on Halloween.

Jennifer Dugan, “The Last Girls Standing” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)

Dugan’s latest novel is meant for young adults, but older readers who grew up with films like “Friday the 13th” and “Sleepaway Camp” will likely be entertained, too. This book follows Sloan and Cherry, two girlfriends who survive an attack on the summer camp where they’re counselors – Sloan starts to think that Cherry isn’t as innocent as she seems.

Alicia Elliott, “And Then She Fell” (Dutton)

The second book from Canadian author Elliott follows Alice, a Mohawk woman who’s working on a new retelling of the Haudenosaunee creation story. She soon starts hearing voices and losing track of time; the novel culminates in a bizarre surprise ending.

Mariana Enriquez, translated by Megan McDowell, “Our Share of Night” (Hogarth)

Argentine author Enriquez unsettled U.S. readers with her short story collections “Things We Lost in the Fire” and “The Dangers of Smoking in Bed.” Her first novel to be translated into English is a terrifying tale about a man mourning the loss of his wife and trying to save their son from the late woman’s family, members of a violent cult.

Leopoldo Gout, “Piñata” (Tor Nightfire)

In this novel by filmmaker, artist, and author Gout, architect Carmen Sánchez brings her two daughters with her to a restoration job in Mexico. After an accident at the site, a terrible spirit is unleashed and follows the family back to New York.

Elizabeth Hand, “A Haunting on the Hill” (Mulholland Books)

Fans of Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Haunting of Hill House” will likely be interested in this authorized follow-up to the 1959 novel. In this one, a playwright and her girlfriend take residence in the creepy mansion, unaware of the ghosts that haunt it.

Ling Ling Huang, “Natural Beauty” (Dutton)

Acclaimed violinist Huang makes her literary debut with this novel about a Chinese American pianist in New York who gets a job at a wellness store that caters to the jet set. Unfortunately, she soon realizes that the beauty products she’s using and selling have a dark side. Huang’s novel is being adapted into a television series by Constance Wu and Drew Comins.

Stephen Graham Jones, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” (Gallery/Saga Press)

If one scary novel just won’t do, you might want to consider picking up Jones’ 2021 novel, “My Heart Is a Chainsaw,” and this new sequel. Both books follow Jade, a slasher film devotee whose hometown of Proofrock, Idaho, is rocked by a real-life serial killer.

Cassandra Khaw, “The Salt Grows Heavy” (Tor Nightfire)

For anyone looking for a quicker read that doesn’t skimp on the horror, Khaw’s novella might be just the thing. It follows an unspeaking mermaid who flees her kingdom for the forest, where she encounters a plague doctor. The pair stumble onto a village populated by disfigured children and the three doctors who control them.

CJ Leede, “Maeve Fly” (Tor Nightfire)

You’ve (hopefully) never seen L.A. like this. Leede’s novel follows the titular antihero, a theme park “ice princess” with a dark side that’s awakened when her best friend’s brother comes to town. Horror author Grady Hendrix calls this one “an apocalyptic Anaheim Psycho,” and — warning — it’s nearly as violent as the Bret Easton Ellis novel he’s referencing.

Mattie Lubchansky, “Boys Weekend” (Pantheon)

Cartoonist Lubchansky’s graphic novel tells the story of Sammie, a transgender artist’s assistant who travels to a friend’s bachelor weekend in the floating city of El Campo. Sammie can’t help but notice that their hotel is also inhabited by a murderous cult — a fact their friends are mysteriously oblivious to.

Jordan Peele and John Joseph Adams, editors, “Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror” (Random House)

Filmmaker Peele (“Get Out”) and editor Adams — both of whom know a thing or two about horror — present an anthology of all-new scary stories from Black authors including Lesley Nneka Arimah, P. Djèlí Clark, N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, and Rion Amilcar Scott.

Keith Rosson, “Fever House” (Random House)

The latest novel from author Rosson is a wild ride. The “hero” of the book is Hutch Holtz, a petty criminal who works collecting drug money for a Portland, Oregon, delinquent. Hutch is caught off-guard when he finds a severed hand in a debtor’s refrigerator — and even more so when he discovers that the hand causes insanity in anyone it comes near.

Related links

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Craig Russell, “The Devil’s Playground” (Doubleday)

Scottish author turns his eye to the Golden Age of Hollywood in his latest novel, about a film buff on the trail of a copy of “​​The Devil’s Playground,” a (not real, don’t check Netflix) 1927 horror film that supposedly cursed everyone involved in its making.

Richard Z. Santos, editor, “A Night of Screams: Latino Horror Stories” (Arte Público Press)

Texas-based journalist and novelist Santos curates a collection of spine-chilling tales, some of which touch on contemporary themes including immigration and racism. Contributors to the anthology, published by the acclaimed Houston press Arte Público, include Ann Davila Cardinal, V. Castro, Richie Narvaez, and Ivelisse Rodriguez.

Lisa Springer, “There’s No Way I’d Die First” (Delacorte Press)

Perfect for teen readers who prefer some laughs with their scares, this debut young-adult novel follows Noelle, a 17-year-old horror movie buff who invites a dozen classmates to her Halloween party on Long Island. One problem: The scary clown she’s hired as cheesy entertainment turns out to have a taste for blood, and he’s brought along an axe.

Trang Thanh Tran, “She Is a Haunting” (Bloomsbury)

Young adult readers with a taste for chills will likely be entranced by this debut novel about Jade, a young woman who visits her estranged father in Vietnam. Jade’s dad is fixing up a colonial house, and she’s convinced the building is trying to destroy her and her family.

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