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American actress Vera Miles stars as Lila Crane in the horror classic 'Psycho', directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1960. Photo: Archive Photos/Getty Images

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The Haunted Bookshelf: 13 Books for the Spooky Season

Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson and H.G. Wells haunt the pages of fall's best spine-tingling tales / BY Nathalie Atkinson / October 13th, 2023


It’s the spooky season (we love a theme here at Zed the Zoomer Book Club), and spine-chilling tales of terror are as varied as the ways in which ghost stories help us grapple with grief and trauma. The potent cocktail of anxieties and existential dread in the world creates fear that is channeled into fiction. Jump scares aside, another, more hopeful, aspect is the comfort found in the belief we might see loved ones again. Whatever your unsettling preference, enjoy our pick of the latest creepy yarns.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Out There Screamingedited by Jordan Peele

If you’re someone who judges a book by its cover, then the design (by Janay Nachel Frazier) of this anthology of new Black horror will not disappoint. American filmmaker and aficionado Peele (Get Out, Nope) edits Nalo Hopkinson, N.K. Jemisin, Tananarive Due, Tochi Onyebuchi and more than a dozen others make up this who’s who of Black genre writers. The book’s stories explore the horror of revenants, as well as the historical legacies of oppression and the Black experience (ghosts are the weight people carry with them) through demons, monsters and the supernatural.


2A Haunting on the Hill by Elizabeth Hand

The Maine-based bestselling author was tapped by Shirley Jackson’s estate to remake the landmark 1959 horror novel The Haunting of Hill House (which was made into a movie starring Julie Harris and Claire Bloom and is celebrating its 60th anniversary this fall). Jackson’s feminist Gothic tale explores the friction between a group of paranormal enthusiasts as they investigate a potentially haunted mansion, but in Hand’s version, playwright Holly rents an eerie mansion to work on a remake of a Jacobean play with a troupe of actors. As they begin rehearsals and discover uncanny goings-on in the house, the group slowly becomes undone.


3The Unfortunate Side Effects of Heartbreak and Magic by Breanne Randall

Sadie is trying to keep her family together when her estranged twin brother Seth comes back to town because their grandmother is dying of cancer. She’s trying to keep the family together, while also facing the fallout from a curse (around four heartbreaks) that goes hand in hand with her magical powers. Even if it wasn’t already a TikTok sensation, this romance novel by Randall, a California journalist, had me at “for fans of Practical Magic.”


4A Darker Shade of Noir edited by Joyce Carol Oates

Oates, the prolific and iconic American 85-year-old novelist, edits this collection of bold and often visceral stories that explore the sub genre of body horror through the female experience. The thematic assortment includes creepy, memorable prose from A-listers Margaret Atwood, Aimee Bender, Tananarive Due, Megan Abbott and Raven Leilani. 


5Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein by Anne Eekhout, trans. by Laura Watkinson

This historical novel by acclaimed Dutch novelist Eekhout revisits the circumstances leading to Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein, her most famous work, at the age of 18. The novel conjures an unsettling and famously stormy 1816 summer on Lake Geneva when Mary, her married lover –  the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – and assorted guests write ghost stories, and aptly captures the circuitous and intense creative impulse.


6Night Side of the Riverby Jeanette Winterson

This collection of ghost stories by Winterson (Written on the Body, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) is populated by haunted apps that use AI to simulate bygone partners, malevolent spirits and jealous lovers. Not all are fiction: the English author intersperses them with accounts of her own close encounters with the spirit world.


7Here in the Nightby Rebecca Turkewitz

These stories include tales of an employee at a haunted hotel who dreams of romance; a group of teen girls who make up a ghost story set in a dusty attic; and a lesbian couple whose car breaks down on a desolate road. This immersive debut collection by the Portland, Me.-based high school English teacher is about the power of ghost stories to play on our deep-seated fears and reveal the darkness lurking in people’s everyday lives.


8Let Him In by William Friend

When it was published in Friend’s native Britain last year, this book was titled Black Mamba, the name given to the imaginary friend of Alfie’s twin daughters. Initially, the new widow assumes the shadowy man they describe to be an invention or coping mechanism (think: The Shining or The Babadook). But the girls become increasingly obsessed and the situation escalates as the sinister force begins to infect Alfie’s own life and dreams. This is a psychological suspense novel that will get under your skin.


9Hemlock Island by Kelley Armstrong

In this standalone horror novel by Armstrong, the No. 1 New York Times bestselling Canadian writer of the Rockton mystery series, Laney — the ex-wife of a tech mogul — makes her home on a remote private island. To keep it afloat, she must rent it to vacationers. When guests report unusual incidents that escalate to blood and gore, she heads to the island to investigate. Armstrong writes at a cabin in rural Ontario, and it shows in her descriptions of the wilderness, which mingles with supernatural elements.


10The Witches at the End of the World by Chelsea Iversen

The Colorado writer’s debut is a lyrical Scandinavian tale, a dark fantasy of world-building about the very different gifts of sisters Minna and Kaija, who live in the remote Norwegian woods. When Kaija leaves to find community and assert a new identity, her sister casts a vengeful and destructive curse she comes to regret. (Oct. 17)


11More Voices from the Radium Age edited by Joshua Glenn

Glenn, the series editor of the splendid MIT Press Radium Age reprint series, resurrects this trove of pro science-fiction writing, featuring medicine men, remote religious sects, eerie sounds coming from nowhere and other sinister goings-on.  The lost, forgotten and weird stories are written by both well-known authors like H.G. Wells, as well as overlooked or obscure writers of the early 20th century.


12Midnight is the Darkest Hour by Ashley Winstead

In her previous novel In My Dreams I Hold a Knife, the Texas-based scholar of American literature wove a crime narrative set in a tight-knit academic community. This time, her atmospheric new Southern gothic turns its attention to female oppression in religious communities. With the help of her old friend Everett, Ruth – a solitary librarian in small-town Louisiana – investigates what’s behind a skull found in the swamp, which locals attribute to a vampiric figure called the Low Man that punishes sinners. Is the myth stoked by this cultish community concealing an evil that’s altogether more demonic and entirely human? To find out, the story alternates between the present and past trauma of Ruth’s teenage years.


13The Reformatory by Tananarive Due

Due, an American Book Award-winning author, takes a cue from her own family history for this speculative fiction set in Jim Crow Florida. It’s a fictionalized version of her great-uncle’s death at the state’s infamous Dozier School for Boys (the same notorious institution that formed the basis of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize winner The Nickel Boys). In Due’s historical horror fable, young Robbie has a gift for seeing ghosts (or haints), and that helps him survive in 1950, when he’s sent to reform school. The harrowing look at juvenile trauma is tinged with fantasy to shape an affecting and thought-provoking critique of mass incarceration.


THE SCROLL

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