6 Books to Read for Spooky Season

With Halloween fast approaching, here in Florida it never really feels quite like fall. The temperature doesn’t drop low enough to wear those cute boots and the leaves don’t turn shades of orange. However, I have curated some picks to make autumn seem more in season and to get you into the spooky spirit. The titles below include a collection of feminist short stories, a small-town mystical romance, a retelling of a classic, a magical boarding school tale, a thrilling serial killer mystery and the story of the haunting aftermath of an epidemic. These are not your usual Stephen King or Agatha Christie tales – as much as I love a good who-done-it story – but rather some newer releases and perhaps some things that once were not scary but are now are terrifying. So, sit down with a nice pumpkin drink or maybe some pre-Halloween candy and prepared to get scared. 

  1. 1. Her Body and Other Parties (2017) by Carmen Maria Machado

    In this collection of feminist short-stories, Machado crafts tales of women’s explicit sexuality and the horrors that entail. A wife must repeatedly refuse the advances from her husband to remove a green ribbon from around her neck, unknowing that it is the thing keeping her together. A woman inventories all her sexual encounters as the world is taken over by a plague, slowly accepting her past. A salesperson in a dress shop copes with growing older in a world that values beauty above all else, and women fade from the world as they age. Another woman struggles with an eating disorder and horrors that ensue after she decides to get weight-loss surgery.

    The scariness isn’t as upfront in this title as in others; there are no serial killers popping out of cornfields with chainsaws. Rather it’s scary because Machado makes you feel the characters' pain and as womxn we can imagine, or know first-hand, the experiences she describes, minus the fiction of course. With frequent inputs from the author to the reader of how to experience the story for themselves, Machado adds realism to the text that gives me goosebumps. I would recommend caution before reading this book because it does contain some triggers due to its traumatic content. 

  2. 2. The Wicked Deep (2018 ) by Shea Ernshaw

    What is better to put you in the Halloween spirit than a small-town mystery? In the town of Sparrow, Oregon everything is sleepy and quaint except in June when the spirits of three witches, that were once executed for witchery, take over the bodies of townsfolk and lure men to their death. Think Hocus Pocus but on the west coast with the background of the Salem Witch Trials.

    Local Penny Talbot and newcomer Bo Carter fight to uncover the mystery as accusations fly and neighbors turn on neighbors. Penny falls for Bo and is determined to protect him from becoming the witches' next victim.

    What is most striking about this novel and most frequently commented on is the atmosphere. It is immersive and the compelling descriptions of the sea-sprayed island and the foggy small-town streets will put you in the autumn headspace. Plus, Netflix recently bought the rights to The Wicked Deep and is developing it, so when it drops snuggle up with your candy corn and apple cider and pretend it’s fall. 

  3. 3. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein (2018) by Kiersten White 

    If you are a fan of the monster classic, Frankenstein, then you’ll love this book. In this retelling of the original Halloween tale, Elizabeth Lavenza is a poor and beaten girl looking for a home knowing only how to survive by manipulating those around her. The Frankenstein family takes her in, and she is instantly infatuated with Victor. As the years pass, they are engaged to be married but Victor’s anger emerges; he is being secretive, hiding in his laboratory at all hours. What is he doing? Elizabeth is determined to stay alive and will do whatever it costs to do so. 

    A recent trend, I have noticed, in young adult novels, is to retell classic stories but carve out spaces for side characters and female protagonists to shine and I am loving it. The Dark Decent of Elizabeth Frankenstein does this beautifully. With this particular retelling, and although it is by no means necessary to understand the plot, it is worth reading Frankenstein first to better pick up the nods to the original story. 

  4. 4. A Deadly Education (2020) by Naomi Novik

    At Scholomance school for magically gifted children, to leave means to die and the only way to survive is to graduate. Inspired by the fabled Scholomance school of black magic in Transylvania, here monsters and demons lurk everywhere and there are no professors because the students practice their magic on each other. 

    El Higgins, a sassy girl that pretty much hates everyone, is going through high school alone considering her magic is so powerful it could kill everyone. To graduate, El must defeat an overwhelming series of monsters with no one to back her up. That shouldn’t be a problem because El is without allies and unwilling to make them, so she must learn to think ten steps ahead or die, literally. 

    If you are into unlikeable characters, then El is for you, but somehow that makes me like her more. Common praise for this novel is its phenomenal world-building, immersing you in this female-led Harry Potter-ish universe. If you like this book, Naomi Novik has others similar, including Spinning Silver and Uprooted which I would also recommend. 

  5. 5. None Shall Sleep (2020) by Ellie Marney

    It just wouldn’t be Halloween without a good ole’ fashion serial killer. Set in 1982, the lone survivor of a serial killer, Emma Lewis, and a US Marshall candidate, Travis Bell, are recruited by the FBI. Their job is to interview teenage killers because they open up more to Emma and Travis, who are also teenagers, and don’t trust authority figures. But once a new serial killer emerges that is killing teenagers, the team must turn to incarcerated murderer, Simon Gutmunsson. 

    The very same man who killed Travis’s father. As the case begins to connect, trauma comes to the surface for them both as they relive the horrific events of their past. But Simon is starting to take an interest in Emma and will do anything to get out of prison, including manipulating everyone around him. 

    After reading this chilling novel, just as the title instructs, you’ll not be able to sleep. If you are a fan of Criminal Minds, then you’ll enjoy getting scared by None Shall Sleep

  6. 6. Blindness (1999) by José Saramago

    This particular novel is not young adult; It’s a little older but given the subject matter and the current state of the pandemic, I figured it would be especially scary this Halloween. 

    In Blindness, everything is normal until one day a plague grips a city as an epidemic of blindness spreads rampantly. This ‘white blindness’, in which its victims are only able to see white, swiftly dismantles the city. Society begins to degrade, the blind die of starvation in stores after futile attempts to find food and stray dogs chew on corpses. No one knows how it happened or why, but this blindness reveals just how blind everyone was to humanity before. 

    The only one immune to the blindness is the doctor’s wife. She acts as a guiding light as she retains her morals and humanity whilst surrounded by chaos. This is another novel that is scary because it seems so real, especially now. A phenomenon so unilateral as a plague, as we’ve seen, can completely dismantle a society. 

    This book is not for everyone. The page style is such that there are no indicators of dialogue, but rather margin to margin text, which can make it tricky to read. I think its intent is to be read aloud, and therefore, ideal to demonstrating the blindness portrayed in the novel. 

Whether you are in Gainesville for the fall season, frolicking through a pumpkin patch or strolling through Salem looking for Binx the cat, all of these books are great reads and perfect to put you in the Halloween spirit. I hope you get scared (in a good way!) and enjoy these picks as much as I do.