13 Spooktacular Books to Send Shivers Down Your Spine
A book list by Onset & Rime.
It’s spooky season so we’ve put together a list of 13 books to make you shiver! Each book incorporates popular spooky tropes.
A Note: Content warnings have been provided where appropriate. Highlight the "invisible" text beside the content warning label to see. Content warnings are not value statements about the books or judgements about the inclusion of any particular content. They are there to give you a heads up on what to be prepared for so you can choose if and/or when a book is right for you.
“A young widow restores a dilapidated mansion with the assistance of a charming, eccentric genius, only to find the house is full of dangerous secrets. ”
From the publisher: “It's 1875, and Alva Webster has perfected her stiff upper lip after three years of being pilloried in the presses of two continents over fleeing her abusive husband. Now his sudden death allows her to return to New York to make a fresh start, restoring Liefdehuis, a dilapidated Hyde Park mansion, and hopefully her reputation at the same time. However, fresh starts aren't as easy as they seem, as Alva discovers when stories of a haunting at Liefdehuis begin to reach her. But Alva doesn't believe in ghosts. So when the eccentric and brilliant professor, Samuel Moore, appears and informs her that he can get to the bottom of the mystery that surrounds Liefdehuis, she turns him down flat. She doesn't need any more complications in her life―especially not a handsome, convention-flouting, scandal-raising one like Sam.
Unfortunately, though Alva is loath to admit it, Sam, a pioneer in electric lighting and a member of the nationally-adored Moore family of scientists, is the only one who can help. Together, the two delve into the tragic secrets wreathing Alva's new home while Sam attempts to unlock Alva's history―and her heart.”
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Romance
Spooky Trope(s): Gothic, Ghosts/Paranormal, Haunted House
Content Warnings: domestic abuse, abuse, institutionalization, mentions of suicide
2) THE LAST HOUSE ON NEEDLESS STREET by Catriona Ward
“This is the story of a serial killer. A stolen child. Revenge. Death. And an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.”
From the publisher: “In a boarded-up house on a dead-end street at the edge of the wild Washington woods lives a family of three.
A teenage girl who isn't allowed outside, not after last time.
A man who drinks alone in front of his TV, trying to ignore the gaps in his memory.
And a house cat who loves napping and reading the Bible.
An unspeakable secret binds them together, but when a new neighbor moves in next door, what is buried out among the birch trees may come back to haunt them all.”
Genre(s): Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Spooky Trope(s): Gothic, Serial Killer, Creepy House
Content Warnings: child abuse, animal abuse, suicide
3) CERTAIN DARK THINGS by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City.”
From the publisher: “Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized.
Atl needs to quickly escape the city, far from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn't include Domingo, but little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in.”
Genre(s): Fantasy, Noir
Spooky Trope(s): Vampires
Content Warnings: gore, animal abuse, misogyny/sexism
4) DEVOLUTION by Max Brooks
“Part survival narrative, part bloody horror tale, part scientific journey into the boundaries between truth and fiction, this is a Bigfoot story [...] like none you’ve ever read before.”
From the publisher: “As the ash and chaos from Mount Rainier’s eruption swirled and finally settled, the story of the Greenloop massacre has passed unnoticed, unexamined . . . until now.
But the journals of resident Kate Holland, recovered from the town’s bloody wreckage, capture a tale too harrowing—and too earth-shattering in its implications—to be forgotten. […] Kate’s is a tale of unexpected strength and resilience, of humanity’s defiance in the face of a terrible predator’s gaze, and inevitably, of savagery and death.
Yet it is also far more than that. Because if what Kate Holland saw in those days is real, then we must accept the impossible. We must accept that the creature known as Bigfoot walks among us—and that it is a beast of terrible strength and ferocity.”
Genre(s): Horror, Speculative Fiction
Spooky Trope(s): Bigfoot/Sasquatch
Content Warnings: gore, animal brutality and death
5) IN THE GARDEN OF SPITE by Camilla Bruce
“Belle Sorensen loves men. She loves them to death...”
From the publisher: “Early in life Belle Sorensen discovers the world is made only for men. They own everything: jobs, property, wives. But Belle understands what few others do: where women are concerned, men are weak.
A woman unhampered by scruples can take from them what she wants. And so Belle sets out to prove to the world that a woman can be just as ruthless, black-hearted and single-minded as any man.
Starting with her long suffering husband Mads, Belle embarks on a killing spree the like of which has never been seen before nor since.
And through it all her kind, older sister Nellie can only watch in horror as Belle's schemes to enrich herself and cut down the male population come to a glorious, dreadful fruition...”
Based on the true story of Belle Sorensen whose murderous rampage began in Chicago in 1900.
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Horror, Crime
Spooky Trope(s): Killing Spree, Serial Killer
Content Warnings: gore, child abuse, child death
6) MY HEART IS A CHAINSAW by Stephen Graham Jones
“In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for…”
From the publisher: “Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.
Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges… a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body.”
Genre(s): Thriller, Horror
Spooky Trope(s): Horror Movies, Masked Killers
Content Warnings: self harm, suicide, abuse, gore, animal death
7) CEMETERY BOYS by Aiden Thomas
“Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.”
From the publisher “When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.”
Genre(s): Fantasy, Young Adult
Spooky Trope(s): Ghosts
Content Warnings: abuse, deadnaming/misgendering of a trans character, gender dysphoria, homophobia, transphobia
8) THE BURNING GIRLS by C.J. Tudor
“A woman trying to outrun her past uncovers a great evil.”
From the publisher: “Welcome to Chapel Croft. Five hundred years ago, eight protestant martyrs were burned at the stake here. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared without a trace. And two months ago, the vicar of the local parish killed himself.
Reverend Jack Brooks, a single parent with a fourteen-year-old daughter and a heavy conscience, arrives in the village hoping to make a fresh start and find some peace. Instead, Jack finds a town mired in secrecy and a strange welcome package: an old exorcism kit and a note quoting scripture. "But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed and hidden that will not be known."
The more Jack and her daughter Flo get acquainted with the town and its strange denizens, the deeper they are drawn into their rifts, mysteries, and suspicions. And when Flo is troubled by strange sightings in the old chapel, it becomes apparent that there are ghosts here that refuse to be laid to rest.
But uncovering the truth can be deadly in a village where everyone has something to protect, everyone has links with the village's bloody past, and no one trusts an outsider.”
Spooky Trope(s): Ghosts, Creepy Village
Content Warnings: ableism/ableist slurs, child abuse, pedophilia, homophobia, suicide, death of a child, attempted rape
9) THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM by Victor LaValle
“A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?”
From the publisher: “Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father's head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.”
Genre(s): Horror, Fantasy
Spooky Trope(s): Cosmic Horror
Content Warnings: racism, gore, police brutality
10) BAD WITCH BURNING by Jessica Lewis
“[O]ne girl’s dark ability to summon the dead offers her a chance at a new life, while revealing to her an even darker future.”
From the publisher: “Katrell doesn’t mind talking to the dead; she just wishes it made more money. Clients pay her to talk to their deceased loved ones, but it isn’t enough to support her unemployed mother and Mom’s deadbeat boyfriend-of-the-week. Things get worse, when a ghost warns her to stop the summonings or she’ll “burn everything down.” Katrell is willing to call them on their bluff, though. She has no choice. What do ghosts know about eating peanut butter for dinner?
However, when her next summoning accidentally raises someone from the dead, Katrell realizes that a live body is worth a lot more than a dead apparition. And, warning or not, she has no intention of letting this lucrative new business go.
But magic doesn’t come for free, and soon dark forces are closing in on Katrell. The further she goes, the more she risks the lives of not only herself, but those she loves. Katrell faces a choice: resign herself to poverty, or confront the darkness before it’s too late.”
Genre(s): Fantasy, Young Adult
Spooky Trope(s): Witches, Ghosts
Content Warnings: gore, animal death, domestic abuse, abuse
11) MY BEST FRIEND'S EXORCISM by Grady Hendrix
Genre(s): Horror, Thriller
Spooky Trope(s): Demonic Possession, Exorcism, Paranormal
Content Warnings: gore, self harm, animal abuse/death, discussion of rape, child abuse, fatphobia, homophobia, racism, ableist slurs, death of a child
12) TAAQTUMI compiled by Neil Christopher
““Taaqtumi” is an Inuktitut word that means “in the dark”—and these spine-tingling horror stories by Northern writers show just how dangerous darkness can be.”
From the publisher: “A family clinging to survival out on the tundra after a vicious zombie virus. A door that beckons, waiting to unleash the terror behind it. A post-apocalyptic community in the far North where things aren’t quite what they seem. With chilling tales from award-winning authors Richard Van Camp, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, Aviaq Johnston, and others, this collection will thrill and entertain even the most seasoned horror fan.”
Genre(s): horror, short stories
Spooky Trope(s): darkness, the unknown
Content Warnings: animal death, child death, gore, cannibalism
13) A IS FOR ARSENIC by Kathryn Harkup
“Fourteen novels. Fourteen poisons. Just because it's fiction doesn't mean it's all made-up…”
From the publisher: “Agatha Christie reveled in the use of poison to kill off unfortunate victims in her books; indeed, she employed it more than any other murder method, with the poison itself often being a central part of the novel. Her choice of deadly substances was far from random--the characteristics of each often provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but this is not the case with poisons. How is it that some compounds prove so deadly, and in such tiny amounts?
Christie's extensive chemical knowledge provides the backdrop for A is for Arsenic, in which Kathryn Harkup investigates the poisons used by the murderer in fourteen classic Agatha Christie mysteries. It looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, the cases that may have inspired Christie, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering and detecting these poisons, both at the time the novel was written and today. A is for Arsenic is a celebration of the use of science by the undisputed Queen of Crime.”
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, science
Spooky Trope(s): poison