18 Horror Novels About Ghosts You Won’t Put Down
Just in time for the spooky season!
Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo
This haunting, contemporary Southern gothic grapples with toxic masculinity and grief among academics. After a childhood tragedy that left them seeing ghosts, Andrew and Eddie became inseparable until Eddie left Andrew to join Vanderbilt’s Ph.D. English program and insisted Andrew wait to join him. When Eddie dies by what appears to be suicide shortly after, Andrew is bereft and raging against the all-encompassing grief that strangles him. He doesn’t believe for a second that Eddie committed suicide, so Andrew travels to Nashville and joins Vanderbilt’s program to get to the bottom of what happened to Eddie. With Eddie’s ghost haunting him upon his arrival, he becomes even more certain that something more sinister is going on. Meanwhile, Andrew is forced to look closer at what his relationship with Eddie really entailed and his own gay masculinity. This is a thought-provoking, character-driven ghost story that kept me up reading late into the night.
When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen
Mira, a Black teacher, returns to her hometown to attend her white childhood friend's wedding, despite her misgivings about the wedding taking place at not only a plantation but a plantation where one of her ancestors was enslaved. Mira is looking forward to seeing Kipsen again, the only other Black person invited to the wedding. Kipsen and Mira had a run-in with a ghost at the plantation when they were kids, leading to Kipsen's arrest and the estrangement of all three friends. Mira doesn't expect to see any ghosts at the plantation, but soon the ghosts of the enslaved begin to haunt her every move, eager to tell their story on the anniversary of a slave revolt that took place there. I listened to this intriguing and horrific contemporary ghost story on audio, narrated by Kara Young.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Noemí Taboada is a socialite who delights in parties, fancy dresses, seducing men, and anthropology. After receiving a garbled letter from her recently married cousin and dear friend Catalina, she travels to the distant village of High Place and the decaying mansion that is now Catalina’s home. There, she finds Catalina incoherent and lethargic while the family she’s married into exudes white-colonialist patriarchy — except for the youngest son, Francis, whose shy demeanor and pallid looks are the exact opposite to the men Noemí typically dates. However, in this rank home with no friends, Francis becomes an anchor for Noemí. Meanwhile, ghosts haunt her dreams and it seems as if the house is slowly becoming alive around her. If you haven’t read this delightfully creepy gothic yet, move it to the top of your TBR pile.
The Upstairs House by Julia Fine
Doctoral student and recent mother Megan is struggling to find the time and energy to complete her doctoral thesis on classic children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown with a newborn. One day, she discovers Margaret is living in a room upstairs in her building, but no one else can see the apartment’s door. As Megan becomes more and more obsessed with Margaret’s life and her ghost upstairs, she accidentally invites the ghost of Michael Strange — Brown’s abusive girlfriend — into her home, and scary accidents begin to occur that put Megan’s infant daughter at risk. The audiobook narrated by Courtney Patterson adds even more intensity to this deeply unsettling glimpse into postpartum motherhood and Margaret Wise Brown’s life.
Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw (Tor Nightfire; Oct. 19)
A bride has always wanted to marry in a haunted house, so when she finally gets engaged, a rich friend decides to make her wedding dreams come true and rents a crumbling Heian-era Japanese mansion for a night and flies the bride and a few friends out to witness the wedding. The mansion is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a woman whose fiancé died before the two could be married. According to the stories, she buried herself alive and forced a girl to be buried with her every year to keep her company. The narrator, Cat — a bisexual Chinese woman struggling with mental illness and suicidal ideation — is the first to realize that the rumors of a ghostly bride may be true. Both lyrical and creepy, this novella will probably give you nightmares (it did for me).
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
If you haven’t picked up this haunted house classic yet by the queen of horror, now is the perfect time to do so. Dr. John Montague seeks to research supernatural manifestations in the rumored-to-be-haunted Hill House. To help with his research, he asks three others to join him, all of whom have experienced past supernatural activity, as well as the heir to Hill House. As the novel unfolds, the supernatural activity slowly increases, unraveling each character and the personas they have built for themselves. The audiobook read by David Warner is only 6 hours long, so it’s also a perfect Halloween listen.
The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton
Readers of Edith Wharton’s best-known early 20th-century classics — like The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome — may not be prepared for these 11 deliciously spooky ghost stories. In “Afterward,” ghosts haunt Americans visiting Europe for an unexpected reason. In “All Souls,” written the year of Wharton’s death, an elderly woman wakes up after an injury to find her home eerily empty. A husband is berated by his dead wife’s ghost in “Pomegranate Seed,” while the ghosts in “Kerfol” are dogs haunting an abandoned castle in Brittany. Atmospheric and clever, these short stories would make perfect reads in the days leading up to Halloween.
Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda, trans. by Polly Barton
The ghosts of women populate every page of these 17 interconnected feminist short stories that retell Japanese folktales. But these ghosts aren’t the evil, creepy kind; they’re out to help other women and to change the world for the better. In the opening story, a ghostly aunt helps her niece realize that beauty standards aren’t all they’re cut out to be. In another story, a ghost babysits and cleans while a single mother works. Though not scary, the stories do have a layer of eerieness combined with a sense of whimsy and humor that makes this collection an absolutely unique and enchanting read.
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Set in 19th-century Malaya (now known as Malaysia), this lovely historical fantasy is permeated by Chinese folklore and ghosts. Li Lan's father is on the brink of financial ruin, and in the hopes of securing Li Lan's future, he agrees to marry her to the wealthy Lim family's deceased son. Li Lan will become a ghost bride, something she has little desire to become; she's haunted by bad dreams of meeting her ghostly husband. When she visits the Lim family's home, she finds herself falling in love with their new heir, but she knows she has little choice in her fate. When she becomes stuck in the ghost world, she must use her cleverness to find her way out and to secure a future for herself.
Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur
In this fascinating, introspective novel, science and Korean mythology intersect. As a child, particle physicist Elsa Park’s mother told her their family was cursed, doomed to repeat stories from the Korean myths and folktales that make up their heritage. Elsa first sees a ghost in the Antarctic snow while working in an observatory. Ghosts and past traumas continue to haunt her as she studies in Sweden and then returns to her family home in California after her mother’s death. Once there, she discovers secrets in the handwritten pages of her mother’s stories. This novel is deeply moving, a complex tale about repressed grief, myth, and diaspora.
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
Also not particularly spooky, this entertaining urban fantasy is steeped in Malaysian mythology and ghosts. Jess has recently graduated from Harvard but doesn't have many work prospects. Mired in medical debt, her parents decide to move back to Malaysia, and Jess goes with them, though she’s lived her entire life in the US. She leaves behind a secret girlfriend she hopes to one day join in Singapore. In Malaysia, Jess's dead Ah Ma (grandmother) possesses her, and Jess becomes a medium to both her grandmother and her grandmother's god, Black Water Sister. As a medium, she finds herself wrapped up in a gang war. Black Water Sister is a twisty, feminist, and enthralling page-turner.
White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson
This compulsive YA horror combines commentary on racial injustices with super creepy haunted house scenes. Mari struggles with anxiety, bedbug phobia, and marijuana addiction. Her mom has recently remarried, and she and her little brother Sammy aren't clicking with their new white stepsister, Piper. Then Mari's mom wins a writing fellowship that includes living in a house rent-free, with the house becoming theirs at the end of the year. This fellowship is too good an opportunity to pass up, so the family makes the move, but Mari immediately notices something off about the house. All the construction workers leave at the same time every day, before it's dark. They refuse to go into the basement. Then there's the stench that appears at random, and the shadows that lurk in her room, and the stories she begins to hear about the house's history.
Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis
This riveting contemporary YA fantasy left me in tears many times. Sixteen-year-old Katrell can bring ghosts back to life by writing them letters, but only briefly — long enough to speak with their loved ones before they fade away again. She hires out her abilities and uses the money from this gig along with her job at a fast-food joint to pay for pretty much everything because her gaslighting mother, who brings abusive men home, doesn't work. Thankfully, Katrell has an amazing BFF to lean on. Then Katrill's magic suddenly shifts, and she's able to bring back the dead for good. At first, she happily resurrects the dead and rakes in cash, but the resurrections take their toll on her health, and the people she brings back aren't quite the same. This novel is an intense read from start to finish.
Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters
When Shady Grove’s father died in a car accident, he left her his fiddle — but this is no ordinary fiddle. When played with enough sorrow, it can call up ghosts. After Shady Grove’s stepfather is murdered, and her older brother Jesse is accused and arrested for the crime, Shady Grove’s sorrow reaches a peak, and ghosts come to her when she plays the old folksongs her father taught her. She’s determined to prove her brother’s innocence and believes answers might lie with the dead. But every time she calls up ghosts with her fiddle, a dark, shadowy man appears and sometimes even controls her movements. Her friends try to help her find other ways to help her brother, but the allure of the fiddle is too strong. Meanwhile, she’s torn between her longtime crush for her fellow bandmate Sarah and her new crush for cowboy Cedar, who plays the bluegrass folksongs Shady Grove adores. In her YA debut, Waters perfectly captures small-town Southern life, and her prose sings as much as Shady Grove’s fiddle does. It’s a lovely and eerie Southern gothic. Also check out Waters’ second novel, The River has Teeth, which is just as spooky, but with witches instead of ghosts.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
In Yadriel’s traditional Latinx family, women become brujas and practice healing magic, and the men become brujos and help spirits to the land of the dead. Yadriel is a man, but his family refuses to let him complete the ritual to become a brujo because he's trans. With the help of his friend Maritza, Yadriel completes the ritual without his family’s knowledge. When his cousin is murdered afterward, he and Maritza try to find out why — but in doing so, they accidentally raise the ghost of Julian Diaz, another murdered teen. As the three try to help Yadriel discover what happened to his cousin, Yadriel and Julian begin to fall in love. This fun and delightful young adult contemporary fantasy is the first novel written by a trans author to make it onto the New York Times bestseller list.
The Diviners by Libba Bray
This immersive and super fun YA ghost story set in 1920s New York City is the first book in a completed quartet. Evie O’Neill has a secret: She can read the past by touching objects. When she drunkenly lets loose some of the things she’s learned, she becomes a social outcast in her small town, and her parents ship her off to New York City to live with her uncle. Uncle Will runs an occult museum in addition to teaching paranormal history and helping the police as needed. A new string of gruesome murders with an occult connection sends the police banging on Uncle Will’s door, and Evie, with her unusual power, realizes this may be only the beginning of a supernatural danger that puts the entire city at risk.
Edie in Between by Laura Sibson
Though not particularly spooky, this sweet and empowering YA features a ghostly heritage. Edie’s mother has recently died, and she’s moved in with her grandmother, who lives in a houseboat in a small town. Edie misses her mother and her familiar Baltimore home. She also resents the magic that courses through her veins, the same magic her grandmother has and her mother had. However, when she discovers her mother’s teenage journal, she also discovers a magic she’s unwilling to ignore. For every object of her mother’s she finds, a new journal entry appears, and Edie is able to relive her mother’s memories. Meanwhile, Edie begins falling for the cute girl who works at the local occult shop.
Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood (Wednesday Books; Oct. 19)
This mesmerizing Ethiopian-inspired gothic reimagines Jane Eyre in a fantasy setting. Andromeda was trained as a debtera — an exorcist who cleanses houses of evil spirits — though her mentor refuses to license her officially. She’s barely making a living when the wealthy Magnus Rochester hires her to rid his castle of its evil spirits. When she arrives, she’s shocked by what she finds. Deadly manifestations fill the castle beginning at 10 p.m. and continue throughout the night. She’s never seen such a multitude of evil spirits all in one place, and never this deadly. She’s unsure if she’ll be successful at ridding the castle of its hauntings, but, desperate for money and finding herself somewhat attracted to the handsome Mr. Rochester, she agrees to take the job. ●