Halloween is absolutely my favorite holiday. I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid and, even though I can (sadly) no longer go trick-or-treating, I still love it. For me, Halloween is a whole season, rather than just a holiday. I love watching creepy movies and TV shows (though weirdly I am and always have been a baby about horror movies), decorating my house, and partaking of all things pumpkin spice. And one of my favorite things to do leading up to Halloween – for the whole month of October, pretty much – is to read creepy, scary, and spooky books. I refer to this as my Halloween reading, and every year I have a list of new books to get to as part of it. More often than not I will hear about a wonderful, creepy-sounding book that is coming out at some point in the year and that I know will be right up my alley, only to force myself to wait to read it until October and Halloween reading time comes around, when I’ll be perfectly in the mood and will have just the right atmosphere.
So, to celebrate the first day of October, I wanted to share some of my favorite past Halloween reading list picks (in no particular order or rank), and also to share what I’m hoping to get to this year. If you are looking for some Halloween reads for yourself, then look no further!
–The Diviners by Libba Bray
If you haven’t read this fabulous and oh-so-creepy YA novel by the exceptional Libba Bray yet, then now is the perfect time. Completely eerie and masterfully incorporating elements of the supernatural, this book is also a top-shelf example of historical fiction, and 1920s New York City both sparkles in all its Jazz Age glory and festers with violence, injustice, and discrimination. And good news!Book 2 in the series, Lair of Dreams, was just released in August (and is also wonderful), so you can pick that one right up after finishing this first installment.
–Conversion by Katherine Howe
This ripped-from-the-headlines story about high school girls suddenly exhibiting strange behavioral ticks and having seemingly inexplicable attacks is paired with a historical narrative about one of the afflicted girls from the Salem Witch Trials – a group of girls who exhibited very similar symptoms. This book is scary in a real-world sort of way, and deals with confronting the scars of the past as well as the uncertainties of the present, and with the fear that surrounds anything that can’t immediately be explained – in this case, a disease.
-We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
A relatively short novel by one of our great writers, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is perhaps not as well known as The Haunting of Hill House (which I actually have yet to read – see below!) but is absolutely masterfully written. I only came to read it myself because a co-worker of mine recommended it and lent me his copy, and I am glad he did. This book is wonderfully creepy and unsettling, and continues the great tradition of the Gothic novel.
–The Fall by Bethany Griffin
Speaking of Gothic novels, this right here is a good modern one. As a big-time Edgar Allan Poe fan and former English major, as soon as I heard that this YA book was a retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher from Madeleine Usher’s point of view, I knew I had to read it. In Griffin’s retelling, the house itself is alive, and determined to keep its denizens in its thrall. This book moves along at a slow burn, but the tension is marvelously maintained throughout.
–America’s Most Haunted: The Secrets of Famous Paranormal Places by Eric Olsen and Theresa Argie
Sometimes nonfiction works its way onto the Halloween reading list. I love those Most Haunted Places type-shows that come on channels like the Travel Channel in October, and as this is basically that in book form, I knew it was right up my alley. This is an interesting and informative about both the history behind some of our country’s iconic locations, as well as accounts of paranormal experiences and the evidence collected at such locations. Some I was already familiar with, such as Bobby Mackey’s Music World in Kentucky, or the Queen Mary that’s docked in Long Beach, CA; yet others I had never heard of before.
–Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn
Creepy, vivid, and heart-wrenching, this is an original and unforgettable read. I can’t say too much about the plot without giving any its twists and turns, so just trust me when I say that this book is wonderful and unlike anything you’ve ever read before!
–In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Set during the Great War and the influenza epidemic of 1918, this book has its fair share of ghosts – spirit photography is central to the plot – as well as evoking the very real fear of an infections disease that is striking people down everywhere. The heroine, Mary Shelley Black, is unforgettable and resilient as she struggles to come to terms with the shattered world in which she is suddenly forced to survive.
-Help for the Haunted by John Searles
Teenaged Sylvie’s parents found their calling in helping haunted souls find peace – until the night they are murdered. The novel follows Sylvie as she tries to cope with life in the aftermath of their death as well as discover the truth behind the murder. It also delves into the past to interrogate the events leading up to that fateful night. This is a book about ghosts in the literal sense, sure, but perhaps more so about ghosts in the metaphorical sense. I read this book in early October last year and it has stuck with me ever since.
-Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson
Savannah, GA is torn apart in the aftermath of a horrific hurricane, yet in some ways the true horror is yet to come when teenaged Dovey learns that the hurricane was more than just a natural disaster – that there were far darker forces behind it than she could possibly have imagined. This atmospheric nail-biter will absolutely send chills down your spine and keep you guessing with all its twists and turns.
–Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz
For God’s sake, take it from me and read this one in broad daylight. Even then you’ll still want to sleep with the lights on. One of the scariest books I’ve ever read, Welcome to the Dark House is the story of a group of teenagers who win an essay contents about their worst nightmares. Their prize is a behind-the-scenes look at horror director Justin Blake’s newest film. Except things seem somehow off as soon as the group gets there…
-The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender
I was getting a bit of a jump on my Halloween reading list this year and actually just finished this book recently. I absolutely loved it and could not put it down. Without giving away any spoilers, I can say that this book took a turn that I did not expect, and in addition to being a creepy ghost story also delves into some heavier themes about loss, family, and grief. I highly recommend this one!
–Mary: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan
Holy crap, is this book scary. Monahan puts a new twist on the classic urban legend of Bloody Mary, the ghost who appears in the mirror to scratch your eyes out. In this YA horror novel, Mary is all too real, and a group of friends has to face her after one of them insists upon summoning her. I was leery of all reflective surfaces in any room I walked into while reading this book! And book two, Mary: Unleashed was recently released, so make this a two-part Halloween read!
-The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
As I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone, this book is not for the faint of heart. By far the most terrifying book I’ve ever read, I was having nightmares two weeks after finishing it. But it was absolutely worth it, because this is also one of the best-written books I’ve ever read. Blatty masterfully leaves everything open to interpretation in this novel and leaves it up to the reader to decide what to make of the events that are depicted, yet by the end you somehow find yourself with almost no choice but to believe. The ideas presented in this book about faith, good, evil, and fear will stay with me forever.
As for what’s on my Halloween reading list for 2015? Check it out below:
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night by Nicholas Rogers
The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy
Haunted Buffalo: Ghosts of the Queen City by Dwayne Claud
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Return to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz
Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn
Sweet Madness by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie
Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett
The Visitant by Megan Chance
Slasher Girls and Monster Boys – an anthology of stories by various YA authors
Daughters unto Devils by Amy Lukavics
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye
The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow
Among the Shadows: 13 Stories of Darkness and Light – another YA anthology
Clearly, this is a very ambitious list, and I may very well not get to all of it. But that’s okay – there’s always next year!