It’s officially October, which makes me want to sing, “It’s the moooost wonderful tiiiiiime of the yeeear…” I know that’s a Christmas song, but to be honest I’m not a Christmas fan (for reasons I will not get into here). However, I absolutely LOVE Halloween. The decorations, the costumes, the crisp fall nights, and of course, the horror fiction (traditional and non-traditional).
I’m also on the horror fiction side of TikTok, and I will say my taste does not include anything horrifically gory or explicitly violent. (I’ve read Chuck Pahlaniuk’s Haunted, and I was nauseous for days; that is a book I will never revisit.) But I do like my books dark, creepy, unapologetically shocking, and when appropriate, subversive. Here is a list of my favorite seasonal fiction reads, in order of least horror-y to most.
Not too scary
Lisey’s Story by Stephen King. My hands-down favorite King novel, and I’ve read almost all of them. It’s not technically “horror,” but it’s haunting, beautifully mysterious, and dark. I know they’re making it into a TV series or whatever but do yourself a favor and read the book first. I keep coming back to this one.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. I wouldn’t call it horror, but its shadowy, alchemy, godly feel makes it perfect for the season. It’s fascinating, weird, creepy, and heart-breaky all at once. More magically strange than terrifying, I’d say, but still… beware the (literal) monsters.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I’m not sure I’ve read a book with a more appropriate title. It’s a gothic horror story set in a decrepit mansion high in the mountains of Mexico, with a feisty socialite lead, a terrifyingly charming villain, and enough supernatural suspense and mystery to keep me up well past bedtime to finish. It was imaginative, dark, and more than a little creepy, and I even loved the pages that grossed me out.
The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon: This one was CREEPY, and made me very glad I do not have a pond in my backyard. A tale of love, longing, loss, and possession spanning several generations, this one was captivating from the get-go, with an ending that made me re-read it four times because I couldn’t possibly believe it was that perfectly, cleverly played. A tale from beyond perfectly fitting for the season.
This is SCARY
The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig: I just finished this one, and though I thought he couldn’t top the pandemic-themed Wanderers, he’s 100% gone and done it. This one starts off as straight-as-an-arrow Steven King-ish horror, but quickly morphs into a runaway train of other-wordly connections that wind together in the most unexpected and satisfying ways. It was pure poetry, and I immediately tweeted at him how much I loved it. (Trigger warning: child abuse)
The Only Good Indians by Steven Graham Jones: My best book of 2020 and a treat for you, since I haven’t shared it on Instagram yet. I literally could not put it down… except alone at night, I had to put it down and make sure my doors were all locked. Literally, I did this. This book was truly scary in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time, and it moved so fast that there were times I’d startle, go back a few paragraphs, and say, “Wait, what the (bleep) did I just read?” It’s brilliant and beautiful and I want to re-consume every page immediately.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins.How many times have I talked about this one?It’s not traditional “horror,” but this book is super ****ed up in the best way possible. From the very first page, it flings open the door, punches you in the face, and doesn’t let up until the very last scene. It’s glorious and horrible and completely un-put-down-able. I’ve never read anything like it to this day, although it’s not for the faint of heart.
We are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory. What I like the best about this book is how it just throws you right into the deep end, with no preamble or warning—just “HERE ARE OUR MONSTERS.” And lord, there are monsters. I don’t want to give too much away (and you kind of just need to experience it for yourself), but reader beware. This one is so dark, it bleeds.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. This is horror all grown up, elegant, sharp, and pitch perfect. These short stories all have their own flair, but the narrative that ties them all together are the realities of women’s lives and the terrible things visited upon their bodies. There is violence and sexuality, and it is unapologetically subversive.
Check out my other favorite reads
This post includes Amazon affiliate links, where I make a small commission when you purchase. I also encourage looking for these titles at your local community bookstore, and/or purchasing through a Black-owned bookstore.