Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
In an alternative present, vampires are alive and well, but not all cities welcome them, understandably. Vampire gangs terrorize many, but Mexico City is a closed nation city and ruthlessly drives out any vampires who manage to sneak within its borders. That makes Mexico City the perfect place for Atl, an Aztec vampire, to hide after a rival vampire gang kills her family. However, with local police and the rival gang’s goonies on her tail, it’s much easier to enter Mexico City than it is to leave. She enlists a hapless street teenager named Domingo to help her escape, but there are dangerous complications at every turn. This ruthless, character-driven vampire novel is perfect for Halloween.
Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente (Nov. 9)
This sharp, slim novella takes place in the seemingly idyllic Arcadia Gardens, where everything is perfect and everyone should be — is required to be — happy. For Sophia, that happiness means taking joy in her perfect husband and the perfect house he made her. However, when Sophia starts asking herself questions about this overwhelming happiness she’s meant to be feeling, she notices cracks and irregularities within Arcadia Gardens, leading her to ask more and more questions. As her reality begins to fissure, Sophia wonders if escape from Arcadia Gardens for someone like her is possible. This searing read has an unexpected twist ending.
No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull
Laina reels when she receives a call that her brother — who she hadn’t seen in many years — has been shot and killed by Boston cops. In anger, she lashes out at those she loves, but when a mysterious voice leaves her a recording of her brother’s death, what she finds is far stranger than she could ever imagine. The tape reveals that monsters are alive, and Laina can never unsee them again. Meanwhile, a professor quits his job to move back to his hometown and find his missing friend. He discovers a world of secret societies and hidden magic. This harrowing and lyrical novel combines elements of urban fantasy and horror with biting social commentary.
Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw (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).
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
This riveting horror follows Vern, a 15-year-old albino Black girl who’s escaped into the woods from an abusive husband and the leader of a Black pride cult called Cainland. Pregnant with twins, Vern gives birth and raises her sons in the forest by herself until they’re 4. Members of Cainland received experimental drugs in their food or water, which caused nightly hallucinations. Away from Cainland, Vern’s hallucinations turn into vivid hauntings, and slowly her body begins to transform into something else, something not quite human. This novel vividly portrays how Black bodies have been used for unethical experiments while it also celebrates queer love, motherhood, and vengeance. It’s gorgeously written and one of my favorite books of the year.
Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap
These 13 captivating short stories entwine fantasy, horror, and science fiction to explore monsters, Filipino folklore, immigration, and queerness. In the dark fairy tale “A Cup of Salt Tears,” Makino’s mother warns her of the dangers of making deals with kappas, even though Makino was saved by a kappa as a child. When Makino’s husband falls ill, she seeks out that same kappa. In “Hurricane Heels (We Go Down Dancing),” a group of five girls befriend one another at a summer camp when a goddess charges them with protecting the world from darkness. Ten years later, the girls are still fighting. These ambiguous, vivid, and dark tales manage deep characterizations despite their short formats.
Slewfoot by Brom
When Abitha’s drunk father sells her hand in marriage to a Puritan from the US, she makes the long journey from London to Connecticut with only a stranger as her companion. However, she learns to love her husband and his Connecticut farm, though his conniving brother constantly sabotages the farm. When her husband dies in the forest surrounding the farm, Abitha is desperate to keep the farm from the prying hands of his brother. She turns to a powerful spirit that has awoken in the forest for help, and the two strike up a plan for revenge and for discovering their true selves. Violent, gory, magical, this new novel by horror master Brom is one of his best. I listened to the audio superbly read by Barrie Kreinik, but the print version includes Brom’s illustrations.
A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson
This lyrical, polyamorous queer reimagining of Dracula is a gorgeous and evocative take on the classic. Dracula saved Constanta from death by transforming her into his bride. In epistolary form, Constanta describes how Dracula changed her into a vampire after a raid in her village and how she went to live with Dracula in his remote castle. When two more brides are added over the years, Constanta begins to slowly recognize Dracula as not only a monster, but also an abuser.
My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
Jade Daniels is a 17-year-old half-Indian girl living in the small Idaho town Proofrock. There’s nothing she loves more than slasher horror movies, so when Proofrock gets its own murderer and the town becomes the setting for a real-life slasher, Jade’s prolific knowledge of horror helps her to predict what’s going to happen next. Unfortunately, according to her predictions, she’s not going to be the “final girl.” Jones is a master at weaving gory, slasher horror with intelligent twists and social commentary. His latest is disturbing, bleak, raw, and utterly captivating.
All's Well by Mona Awad
This dark and intense labyrinthine horror retells a Shakespeare classic. After a car accident, theater professor Miranda Fitch has chronic pain and an addiction to pain killers. The accident ended her acting career, and now her job as a college theater director is under threat. She’s determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, but her cast insists on Macbeth instead. When three strangers show her a magic trick, Miranda — miserable with her life and with seemingly nothing to lose — agrees to a series of bargains with them that quickly turns into something more horrific.
Reprieve by James Han Mattson
Set in 1997, this nightmare-inducing horror takes a unique spin on escape rooms. Quigley House — a full-contact haunted house escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska — is famous for a contest offering $60,000 to a group of four who can make it through every cell of the haunted house without calling the safe word, “reprieve.” Only one group has ever done it before, and now a group has made it to the final cell. However, before they can complete the cell’s task, someone breaks into the haunted house and murders one of the contestants. Told via court documents and multiple character perspectives that highlight underlying racism and misogyny, this intriguing and complex new horror is a perfect Halloween read.
The Seven Visitations of Sydney by Andy Marino
This nail-biting debut blends cosmic and psychological horror, though it opens like a thriller. After years of poverty and addiction, Sydney Burgess has rebuilt her life for both herself and her son. She has a thriving career as a marketer, lives in a wonderful house, has a wonderful boyfriend, and is nine years sober. However, when a masked man barges into her home one day, her good life begins to crumble. She remembers escaping through a window, but the police tell her a different story: they found the masked man brutally murdered and claim she’s the one who did it. She returns to her perfect life, but now nothing is the same, and something slithers in the corner of her eye, something not quite right.
Cackle by Rachel Harrison
After being dumped by her boyfriend of seven years, Annie takes a new job teaching in a high school in a small town in upstate New York called Rowan. It seems like the perfect picturesque town; the only problem is the number of spiders that call her apartment home. When she meets the charming and beautiful Sophie, she feels like she’s finally made a friend. Sophie lives in a secluded mansion deep in the woods, and even though the townsfolk seem to fear Sophie, Annie is swept up by her charisma. But then she begins to wonder, could there be something supernatural about Sophie? This light, cozy horror is perfect for readers looking for a witchy read that won’t leave them too scared to sleep.
This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno
Thiago has just lost his wife Vera in a tragic accident, and under a mountain of grief, he recalls the eerie circumstances leading up to his wife’s death. It started with their Itza, a smart speaker practically every household has, but theirs sometimes purchased strange items they never requested, like a pink dildo and a book of black magic. Then it would speak when no one was in the room. After Vera dies, the strangeness amplifies, and Thiago escapes into a Colorado forest only to find that the horror followed him, and it’s about to get even worse. This intense cosmic horror with a touch of Mexican American folklore is incredibly creepy and moving. I listened to the phenomenal audiobook narrated by Robb Moreira.
All the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter
In this gorgeous, atmospheric gothic, grisly fairy tales and creatures from myth come to life, haunting a family legacy while also allowing its prosperity. The O'Malleys have always lived in Hobs Hallow, a tower at the edge of the sea, reaping the sea's rewards through unnatural means, or at least that’s what the rumors claim. Once upon a time, their wealth was legendary, but now Mirin and her grandparents are the last true O'Malleys. When her grandparents die, she finds clues that indicate her mother is still alive. With a distant O’Malley cousin trying to force her into marriage, Mirin flees Hob's Hallow in search of her parents, but her search only leads her to another house with its own dark secrets tucked away within stories and fairy tales.
The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig
This eerie, literary horror centers on a family and its fight against an evil stalking their town. Nate and Maddie left the town they grew up in carrying memories of their dark past: for Nate, his father’s physical abuse, for Maddie, a trauma she just barely remembers and tries to recapture through art. Now married, Nate and Maddie return to the town with their 15-year-old son Oliver when Nate’s abusive father dies and leaves him the house. Soon, the terrors from their childhood begin creeping back into their lives. Nate sees his father’s ghost, Maddie’s art takes on a sinister life of its own, and Oliver makes friends with a boy fascinated by dark magic. That dark magic threatens to destroy the family, though its threat extends beyond the family as well.
Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn (Oct. 19)
This surreal and enthralling novella takes place in a horrific future wrecked by climate change and flooding. Iraxi refuses to marry a prominent white man, and after he violently retaliates, she flees on a ship. However, monstrous creatures call the ocean home, and the people on the ship are always at risk of falling prey to their tentacles. Most of the women struggle with their pregnancies, and after several years there have been no successful births. However, when Iraxi becomes pregnant, her pregnancy thrives, but she fears the child she’s carrying and wishes she weren’t pregnant at all.
The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling (Oct. 19)
Jane Shoringfield doesn’t want romance or marriage; she wants to be independent and continue her work as an accountant. By her calculations, the best way to achieve independence is a marriage of convenience, where the other party understands that Jane will be independent and work. The doctor Augustine Lawrence is the perfect candidate, and he agrees to marry her under one condition — she never goes to his ancestral home, Lindridge Hall, where he sleeps every night. However, hours after their marriage, Jane is forced to go to Lindridge Hall, where she finds her husband paranoid and hysterical. In the morning, he’s normal again, but there’s something decidedly strange about Lindridge Hall. Inspired by Crimson Peak, the horror in this gothic set in an alternate postwar England subtly increases as the novel progresses, unease seeping into the pages as the practical Jane begins to question reality.
A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
This sapphic dark academia is full of twists, romance, unreliable characters, nods to classic literature, and all the gothic feels. After Felicity Morrow's girlfriend died in a tragic accident, she took a year off from school for therapy. Now she's back at the prestigious all-girls Dalloway School, living in her old room in Godwin House. Godwin House has a history of witches and murder, and before the accident, Felicity was obsessed with that history and dabbled in witchcraft. Now she's sworn off all of that, but when the attractive teenage prodigy Ellis Haley moves into Godwin House to write a novel about the house’s history and the witches who died there, Felicity finds herself drawn back into the dark magic she swore she'd never do again. I listened to this on audio, and it was excellently narrated by Lindsey Dorcus. As a Southerner, I especially appreciated her Southern accent for Ellis Haley's character, which wasn't too over the top.
The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters
This compulsive YA thriller entwines elements of horror and fantasy. Someone is killing girls in a nature preserve. When Natasha's sister disappears, she worries she was the latest victim and goes to the nature preserve to investigate. A witch family lives nearby, garnering their magic from the forest. They might be the key to solving the disappearances — especially the intriguing Della — or they might be the cause of the murders. As Natasha and Della slowly start falling for one another, magic neither of them knew existed begins to bloom.
The Woods Are Always Watching by Stephanie Perkins
Best friends Neena and Josie have recently graduated high school and have decided to take a long weekend hike in Pisgah National Forest together before college separates them. While the two friends never fought in the past, Neena’s decision to leave Ashville for college in LA has driven a wedge in their tight friendship. As everything that can go wrong on their hiking trip does, the tension between the two increases, and their latent fears cause them to lash out at one another. Then things go from bad to worse, gruesomely worse, and the girls find themselves on the worst camping trip ever. Twisty and dark, this intense, character-driven YA horror is like Wild by Cheryl Strayed meets Stephen King.●