In honor of the witchiest time of year, we present five books that will scare you worse than the ingredients list of a circus peanut. From an offbeat ghost story to fairy tales that bite, these reads will have you ignoring trick or treaters in your rush to get through just one more chapter before bedtime:
Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll
Even in their most bare-bones tellings, fairy tales are brutal, full of murder, dismemberment, parental abandonment, and familial betrayal. Their horror is often muted by their straightforward prose, which never dwells too long on the bloody chamber, the severed finger, or the slaughtered child. But in Carroll’s Grimm-inflected horror stories, which feel both canonical and new, spare prose winds around sharply rendered, eerie illustrations that intensify the terror and remind readers to stay far, far away from the dark, dark woods.
Rooms, by Lauren Oliver
In Oliver’s unusual haunted-house story, the ghosts aren’t specters in a hallway, or presences at the foot of the bed: they suffuse every inch of the house itself, unable to ignore the living people that come and go, or to avoid entering the dramas of their lives. Two bickering ghosts—and then a mysterious third—watch as an embittered patriarch sickens and dies, and his family descends on his house to plan the funeral, claim their inheritance, and square his earthly life away. Oliver’s book unfolds as not only a ghost story but a mystery (what are the ghosts’ origins?) and a dysfunctional-family drama, full of chills both paranormal and utterly ordinary.
Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes
Beukes reinvented the serial killer genre with 2013’s The Shining Girls, which added time travel and a creepy sense of predestination to the slaughter of a legion of “shining girls” marked somehow for greatness, ferreted out and destroyed by a vicious time-jumper named Harper. In Broken Monsters Beukes fuses five disparate storylines set in present-day Detroit into a sweeping and terrifying story centered on the hunt for the “Detroit Monster,” a killer who stages elaborate taxidermy tableaus with the bodies of his victims and of dead animals. It elides the boundaries between real and supernatural as effectively as The Shining Girls, and will be equally effective at keeping you up at night.
Revival, by Stephen King
A pastor broken down by personal tragedy seeks redemption in a very wrong place: the dark supernatural crackle of faith healing, but faith in what? Revival opens on the young pastor’s arrival, wife and child in tow, at a small east coast town, where he woos his congregants and wows young Jamie Morton before the accident and subsequent spurning of religion that drive him to abandon his flock. When a grownup Jamie reconnects with the Reverend Jacobs years later, he fears the man has gone too far into darkness and mad science to be retrieved.
Monstrous Affections, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant
Link knows from horror, having authored chilling tales including “Stone Animals” and the peerlessly creepy “The Specialist’s Hat.” In Monstrous Affections, she and coeditor Grant bring together stories by young adult authors exploring monstrousness ranging from the supernatural to the all-too-human kind. And how can you resist titles like Alice Sola Kim’s “Mothers Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying” and Holly Black’s “Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (The Successful Kind)”?
What’s your favorite scary read?