20 scary books and horror novels to read this Halloween

Here are our picks from among 2023’s scariest books to get you ready for Oct. 31 (and beyond)

You may have stocked up on candy, 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 preparations aren’t complete until you’ve compiled a list of spooky reads.

Fortunately, you still have time. Nothing beats reading a scary horror novel in between trips to the front door to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. You can’t go wrong with the classics or a horror master’s recommendations, but if you’re looking for something a little more contemporary, there’s plenty to choose from.

This year, authors have wasted no time in terrifying readers who prefer the edge of their seats. Here are 20 horror books from 2023 to read at home under a blanket (or, if you’re feeling brave, at that abandoned amusement park near the old cemetery that the locals prefer not to discuss).

“Vampires of El Norte” by Isabel Caas (Berkeley)

The sequel to Caas’ well-received “The Hacienda” is a Western with a twist. After being attacked by a vampire, Nena, a woman in 1840s Mexico, is presumed dead by her partner, Néstor. But she survives, and years later, as monsters lay siege to the Rio Grande Valley, she runs into her former beau.

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

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

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

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

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

The new collection from acclaimed author Due, who teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA, includes previously published and new stories that showcase her talent for scary prose and clever twist endings. Due’s next novel, “The Reformatory,” is set in a cruel Jim Crow South reform school and will be published on Halloween by Gallery/Saga Press.

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

Dugan’s latest novel is aimed at young adults, but older readers who grew up watching movies like “Friday the 13th” and “Sleepaway Camp” will likely enjoy it as well. Sloan and Cherry are two girlfriends who survive an attack on the summer camp where they work as counselors – Sloan begins to suspect that Cherry isn’t as innocent as she appears.

“And Then She Fell” by Alicia Elliott (Dutton).

Elliott’s second novel follows Alice, a Mohawk woman working on a new retelling of the Haudenosaunee creation story. She soon begins to hear voices and lose track of time, culminating in a bizarre surprise ending.

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

Enriquez, an Argentine author, alarmed American 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 story about a man grieving the death of his wife and attempting to save their son from the late woman’s family, who are members of a violent cult.

“Piata” (Tor Nightfire) by Leopoldo Gout

In this novel by filmmaker, artist, and author Gout, architect Carmen Sánchez travels to Mexico with her two daughters to work on a restoration project. A terrible spirit is unleashed after an accident at the site and follows the family back to New York.

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

Fans of Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Haunting of Hill House” will most likely enjoy this authorized sequel to the 1959 novel. In this one, a playwright and her girlfriend move into the creepy mansion, oblivious to the ghosts that haunt it.

“Natural Beauty” by Ling Ling Huang (Dutton).

With this novel about a Chinese American pianist in New York who gets a job at a wellness store catering to the jet set, acclaimed violinist Huang makes her literary debut. Unfortunately, she quickly discovers that the beauty products she uses and sells have a dark side. Constance Wu and Drew Comins are adapting Huang’s novel into a television series.

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

If one terrifying novel isn’t enough, consider picking up Jones’ 2021 novel, “My Heart Is a Chainsaw,” as well as this new sequel. Both books follow Jade, a slasher movie fan whose hometown of Proofrock, Idaho, is being terrorized by a real-life serial killer.

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

Khaw’s novella might be just the thing for anyone looking for a quick read that doesn’t skimp on the horror. It tells the story of an unspoken mermaid who flees her kingdom for the forest, where she meets a plague doctor. The two come across a village full of disfigured children and the three doctors who control them.

“Maeve Fly” by CJ Leede (Tor Nightfire)

You’ve (hopefully) never seen Los Angeles like this before. Leede’s story revolves around the titular antihero, a theme park “ice princess” with a dark side who is awakened when her best friend’s brother visits town. Grady Hendrix describes this as “an apocalyptic Anaheim Psycho,” and it’s nearly as violent as the Bret Easton Ellis novel he’s referring to.

“Boys Weekend” by Mattie Lubchansky (Pantheon).

The graphic novel by cartoonist Lubchansky 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 home to a murderous cult, which their friends seem to be unaware of.

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

“Fever House” by Keith Rosson (Random House)

Rosson’s latest novel is a roller coaster ride. The book’s “hero” is Hutch Holtz, a petty criminal who collects drug money for a delinquent in Portland, Oregon. Hutch is taken aback when he discovers a severed hand in a debtor’s refrigerator — and even more so when he discovers that the hand causes insanity in anyone who comes into contact with it.

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

In his latest novel, the Scottish author looks to the Golden Age of Hollywood, following a film buff on the hunt for a copy of “The Devil’s Playground,” a (not real, don’t check Netflix) 1927 horror film that allegedly cursed everyone involved in its production.

Richard Z. Santos is the editor of “A Night of Screams: Latino Horror Stories” (Arte Pblico Press).

Santos, a Texas-based journalist and novelist, has curated a collection of spine-chilling tales, some of which address contemporary issues such as immigration and racism. Ann Davila Cardinal, V. Castro, Richie Narvaez, and Ivelisse Rodriguez are among those who contributed to the anthology, which was published by the prestigious Houston press Arte Pblico.

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

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. It is ideal for teen readers who prefer some laughs with their scares. The scary clown she’s hired for cheesy entertainment turns out to have a taste for blood, and he’s brought an axe with him.

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

This debut novel about Jade, a young woman who visits her estranged father in Vietnam, will likely captivate young adult readers who enjoy chills. Jade’s father is renovating a colonial house, and she believes the structure is out to destroy her and her family.

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