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The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
This gorgeously written and deeply creepy gothic horror with “Bluebeard” vibes takes place in a remote home in the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence. Beatriz has next to no options after her father is killed in the overthrow of the Mexican government. When widower Don Rodolfo Solórzano — a handsome and wealthy white man — proposes, she hastily accepts, eager to start a new life in a new home where she will be mistress. However, things immediately seem off at Hacienda San Isidro. Rodolfo’s sister refuses to stay in the house after dark, and the cook scatters protective herbs around the kitchen. When Rodolfo leaves for the city to work, Beatriz discovers why everyone seems so scared of the house. It’s haunted, and whatever evil haunts it hates Beatriz. With no help, Beatriz turns to a nearby church, where the head priest scorns her. However, a new young priest who grew up near the hacienda offers to help and, in so doing, releases his own dark powers.
Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison
If there’s such a thing as cozy horror, this is it. It’s a brilliant, original werewolf novel about women’s bodies, sisterhood, and agency. Rory Morris loves her big city life of one-night stands and career successes, but when her twin sister, Scarlett, asks her to return to the small town where they grew up to help her with her pregnancy, Rory reluctantly returns. Shortly after, on the way home from a local bar, Rory crashes into a large animal, and it drags her into the forest when she leaves the car to investigate. She comes to in a hospital room with what appears to be a minor wound on her side, but when she goes home to her sister’s house, her wound seeps silver blood. The first full moon confirms her worst fears: She is now a werewolf. Meanwhile, despite her best efforts, she begins to fall in love with a handsome former high school friend. Rory doesn’t want to be stuck in her small town forever, no matter what, but how in the world can she manage being a werewolf in New York City? And how is she going to tell her sister that she’s a monster now? The audiobook narrated by Kristen Sieh is absolutely delightful. If you’re looking for something more sinister, Harrison also has a collection of horror short stories releasing this year, Bad Dolls.
Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth
This surreal horror is unlike anything I’ve ever read. When Abby Lamb and her husband move into her mother-in-law’s house, Abby envisions charming her mother-in-law and the three forming a happy little family, one that Abby intends to add to with children as soon as possible. Instead, Abby’s mother-in-law detests her and doesn’t try to hide it. After she dies by suicide, Abby breathes a sigh of relief, though she knows it’s wrong to do so, and turns to mothering her bereft husband. She also practices her mothering skills on a patient at the retirement home she works at and imagines what it would be like to be that patient’s daughter. When she arrives home to work one day with her husband declaring his mother’s ghost is in the house, Abby finds herself competing for her husband’s attention with a ghost. If Abby wants to become a mother, she’ll have to confront both the ghost of her mother-in-law and the ghost of her traumatic relationship with her own mother. This is an engrossing, bizarre read that’s both hilarious and disquieting.
Lute by Jennifer Marie Thorne
This lovely, Shirley Jackson-esque horror based on British folklore is set in an apocalyptic, war-torn future where one remote island in England — Lute — remains untouched and idyllic. When Florida native Nina Treadway marries the Lord of Lute and moves to the island, it’s like she’s entered a new world. The townsfolk call her Lady, and she takes long roving walks in the countryside with her dog while servants watch her children, a lifestyle she’s never experienced until now. The villagers have warned her about The Day — when one day a year seven people in Lute die so that the island remains untouched by death in the intervening years — but she views it as superstitious nonsense at best, a local custom she need not pay much mind to. Then she experiences her very first Day.
Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes
Titanic meets Alien 2 in this intense sci-fi horror. Claire Kovalik is bringing her team home at the end of her last deep space mission when the ship picks up a distress signal from an area yet to be explored. They follow the signal and discover a luxury space-liner that has been missing for decades. It’s clear from its wreckage that something tragic has happened, but Claire orders a search of the ship to secure their rights to a finder’s fee and search for survivors. Blood and ghosts greet Claire on the liner, though she initially blames the ghosts on her PTSD from a childhood tragedy. However, when other crew members begin hallucinating and hearing whispers in the dark like her, Claire knows something more sinister is going on. The audiobook read by Lauren Ezzo makes for compulsive, edge-of-seat listening.
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
This gothic retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe is a hair-raising, enthralling read. Nothing has ever scared Alex Easton, a nonbinary retired soldier who prides themself on their practicality. When Easton receives a letter from their childhood friend Madeline Usher explaining she’s dying and to come immediately, Easton travels to the decrepit Usher mansion in a remote area of Ruritania to be by her side. The landscape is dotted with flesh and blood-colored mushrooms that let off a putrid smell, as well as hares that move in strange, jolting ways. Easton finds both their childhood friends Madeline and Roderick Usher emaciated and clearly ill, with erratic white hairs covering their bodies. Something definitely isn’t quite right in the house of Usher, and Easton aims to get to the bottom of it. The audiobook narrated by Avi Roque is delightful.
Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
This disturbing haunted house novel follows Vera, the daughter of a convicted serial killer, as she returns to her childhood home to care for her dying mother. Vera does not want to go back to where her father’s gruesome murders occurred, but she feels compelled by guilt and a certain something else to return when her mother asks her to. Despite having fled her childhood home as soon as possible, Vera hasn’t settled down anywhere in the decades since and has no family or friends. Returning to the house brings back childhood memories of both special moments between Vera and her father and tense moments with her mother. While Vera feels more at home here than anywhere else, all is not well. First, there’s the annoying, pretentious artist staying on the property as he works on a series about love and monsters centering Vera’s family. Then there’s her mother’s odd behavior. More sinister of all, Vera is convinced that *something* creeps into her bedroom at night, moving the furniture, stealing her blankets, and leaving notes in her father’s handwriting. The basement where her father tortured and murdered men lies just below Vera’s childhood bed, and whatever or whoever is sneaking into her room at night seems to escape there when night turns to day. The audiobook narrated by Xe Sands is a genuinely nail-biting listen.
The Night Eaters: She Eats the Night by Marjorie M. Liu, Illustrated by Sana Takeda
Get ready to be terrified by some truly harrowing illustrations in this first book in a new horror graphic novel trilogy. The derelict house across the street from Chinese American twins Billy and Milly has been on the market seemingly forever. When their parents come for a visit, their taciturn mom decides to take the house in hand and toughen up her children in the process. What follows is a hellish home makeover full of demons, blood, and, most terrifying of all, grinning dolls. In the process, the twins learn their mother is scarier than they thought and that both parents have big dark secrets. Interspersed with the horror, the parents remember how they fell in love in Hong Kong. This is a sharply written, lavishly illustrated graphic novel that you probably shouldn’t read right before bed.
House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson
In this macabre horror set in an alternative world, beautiful poor girls are sold to wealthy houses to become bloodmaids, where their aristocratic owners drink their blood to rejuvenate their health. Marion Shaw sees the chance to become a bloodmaid as an opportunity to escape her poverty-stricken and miserable life. When the mistress of one of the wealthiest houses, The House of Hunger, buys her, Marion soon finds herself falling in love with the mistress and gladly offers up her blood. While at first she and the other bloodmaids bond, when Marion supplants the first bloodmaid and becomes the mistress' favorite, the other bloodmaids begin to shun her. However, all is not what it seems at the House of Hunger, and Marion's rise in the household order puts her more at risk, not less, and the secrets she discovers could kill them all.
Shutter by Ramona Emerson
Forensic photographer Rita Todacheene has a unique ability — she can see ghosts. This ability set her apart on the Navajo reservation she grew up on with her grandmother because the Navajo do not speak of the dead. However, because she can communicate with ghosts, she often finds things that others miss, and she’s the best forensic photographer on the Albuquerque police force and is overworked because of it. After photographing a woman’s gruesome death, the woman’s ghost haunts her, refusing to let Rita have any peace until she solves her murder. The ghost will stop at nothing until her killer is punished, which means terrorizing Rita. Shutter is a compelling, superbly characterized supernatural thriller from a debut, Diné author. I can’t wait for more by the author!
The Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce
Told through a collection of blog entries, journals, book excerpts, and other found documents, this contemporary horror novel explores a dark legend and its terrifying consequences for two former friends. When Elena was a child, she spent every summer at her uncle’s castle in a small Norwegian town, where she befriended Cathy, a lonely girl who had no friends after an accident kept her from school. Decades later, the two’s childhood friendship has long since ceased, and Elena is now a famous spirituality author and social media influencer, while Cathy continues to be solitary and disliked by many. Both are working on novels recreating the life of Ilsbeth Clark, who was accused of witchcraft centuries earlier and drowned in a well after several children disappeared. Elena and Cathy immediately form a rivalry. Meanwhile, a memory of seeing the witch in the well as children haunts them both. Like in her previous novel You Let Me In, Bruce masterfully plays with perceptions of reality, truth, and magic. It’s a uniquely told and riveting read.
Leech by Hiron Ennes
This innovative parasitic horror blends science fiction and gothic horror for some truly shudder-worthy scenes. It opens in a remote chateau where a new doctor conducts an autopsy on the chateau’s recently deceased doctor and extracts a writhing black something from behind the doctor’s eye. While it appears the doctor died of self-inflicted wounds, the new doctor wonders if this black thing could’ve caused it. However, the baron forbids further investigation, which the new doctor promptly ignores. This parasite, this leech, could pose a threat to everyone in the chateau and the surrounding village, but, more importantly, it could threaten the doctor and the legion of doctors provided by the Interprovincial Medical Institute. Parasites come in many shapes and sizes in this wildly weird and fascinating novel.
The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson
Jackson tackles race relations in a small Georgia town in this Carrie-inspired YA horror. It's told from the lens of a true crime podcast about the mysterious and possibly paranormal events surrounding the widespread death in Springfield, Georgia, and how one babbling teenager claimed "Maddy did it." Between podcast episodes, the narrative alternates between three teens: Maddy, who is biracial and the target of frequent bullying, Black football star Kenny, and his white girlfriend Wendy. Despite being plagued by bullies at school, Maddy's homelife with her abusive, racist white father is far worse. After a video of students throwing pencils in Maddy's hair goes viral, Wendy decides that the only way to save the school's image is to host their first integrated prom because even though it's 2014, the town still had segregated proms. Wendy asks her boyfriend Kenny to take Maddy to the prom for optics, and Kenny finds himself surprisingly drawn to Maddy. Meanwhile, Maddy hides a secret that could either save her or destroy everyone. Jackson's searing portrayal of small-town Southern race relations and her masterful use of multiple perspectives make this one of her best novels yet.
Clementine, Book One by Tillie Walden
This YA graphic novel centers on 17-year-old Clementine from Telltale's The Walking Dead, though you don’t have to be familiar with the series to enjoy her story. Traumatized, Clementine painfully makes her way to a nebulous northward destination, her roughly hewn artificial limb slowing her down. When she comes across an Amish town, she gets a replacement leg that works much better and befriends a teen on his way to help build a town in a remote Vermont ski lodge. She agrees to accompany him, and the two make their way to Vermont, fighting zombies along the way. They meet three other teens there, and things immediately get off to a rocky start. This character-driven apocalyptic horror can easily be consumed in a single sitting.
Our Shadows Have Claws edited by Yamile Saied Méndez, Amparo Ortiz, and Ricardo López Ortiz
This YA short story anthology featuring Latine authors writing about legendary Latin American monsters is such a fun read. The anthology opens with “The Nightingale and the Lark” by Chantel Acevedo, a reimagining of Romeo and Juliet with shapeshifters that explores who defines the monsters. Puerto Rican vampires make an appearance in “The Boy From Hell” by Amparo Ortiz, while “Leave No Tracks” by Julia Alvarez explores the effects of climate change and industrialism on Indigenous forest spirits. Racquel Marie takes on the “La Patasola” myth in her chilling short story about a school camping trip that goes terrifyingly wrong. All 15 of these short stories are fantastic, at turns thrilling and lovely.
Wake the Bones by Elizabeth Kilcoyne
After only a year in college, Laurel Early is back in her small Kentucky town and living with her uncle on his farm, brooding over her mother’s death when she was an infant and collecting bones for taxidermy projects. Laurel has a secret she’s told no one — she has a magic tied to the land and can communicate with the dead. Her return to the farm triggers an evil presence. Soon after her arrival, her taxidermy bones disappear, and a monster begins haunting her and her three best friends. When the ghost of Laurel’s mother appears, Laurel realizes there’s a curse on the land that only she can break. However, breaking the curse and killing the devil will require blood, sacrifice, and facing Laurel’s past. This is an eerie and intense YA Southern gothic.
The Restless Dark by Erica Waters
Set in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, in this atmospheric YA horror, a popular true crime podcast hosts its first-ever contest to discover the remains of the Cloudkiss Killer. Years earlier, the Cloudkiss Killer jumped off Cloudkiss Canyon when his teenage victim Lucy escaped his grasp and police cornered him. However, police never found his remains. In an attempt to put the past behind her so she can own her present, Lucy joins the contest hiding her true identity so the other true-crime enthusiasts won’t hound her. Carolina also enters the contest to grapple with her own bloody past and decide what exactly makes people obsessed with murder. Maggie is a college student working on a paper about true crime. The three join forces to find the Cloudkiss Killer’s body, but all harbor dangerous secrets. Meanwhile, the mist that comes and goes across the canyon whispers its own threats to anyone gullible enough to listen. This is a compulsive read.
The Depths by Nicole Lesperance
Addie Spencer used to be a professional free diver, but after an accident left her dead for eight minutes, her doctors have declared her unfit for free diving until her lungs heal, if they ever do. So instead of training, Addie is tagging along with her mother on her honeymoon to a remote island. Something immediately feels a bit off about the island, but Addie represses all misgivings because she doesn’t want to ruin her mother’s honeymoon. After sleepwalking leads her to the beach, she meets a handsome boy, and the two begin meeting nightly. Meanwhile, during the day, Addie plays tag with a little girl, though the island’s keepers claim no one else is on the island. This immersive YA horror will have you second-guessing any island getaways.
M Is for Monster by Talia Dutton
This YA graphic novel reimagining of Frankenstein beautifully addresses themes of identity, bodily autonomy, sisterhood, and self-love. When scientist Frances Ai's sister Maura dies in a science experiment gone wrong, she decides to recreate her. When the stitched-together recreation of Maura awakens, however, she's not the sister Frances hoped to have back again. This version of Maura doesn't have her memories, and she has her own thoughts and feelings about the world that differs from Maura's. She's desperate to fit in and be the sister Frances longs for, but no matter how hard she tries, she's never enough.
White Horse by Erika T. Wurth
This propulsive literary horror is one of my favorite books of the year. Kari James, a Chickasaw and Apache woman, loves bars, old bookstores, Stephen King novels, and heavy metal. When her cousin and best friend Debby finds and gives Kari an ancestral bracelet, Kari’s mother starts haunting her. Kari thought her mother had abandoned her as an infant, but now she realizes something more sinister must have happened to her. The bracelet holds even more horrors: A monster out of legend also begins to terrorize her. Frantic to get to the bottom of the bracelet and her mother’s story, Kari investigates her mother’s disappearance. Meanwhile, Debby’s controlling husband and Kari’s guilt over the death of a childhood friend plague her. The audiobook narrated by Tonantzin Carmelo is enthralling.