I’m a total wimp when it comes to horror. My imagination is so overactive that just watching the preview for a scary movie or reading a recap can freak me out. So when I do read something spooky, it’s because I’ve been sucked in by the amazing atmosphere, characters, or premise.
Like Crimson Peak. It’s terrifying, but I couldn’t resist that gorgeous gothic atmosphere.
Here are some books that are undeniably scary yet so good I couldn’t put them down and hide. If you’re looking for an atmospheric Halloween read, look no further. Just don’t blame me for any nightmares.
Anna Dressed in Blood
by Kendare Blake
Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.
So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.
When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.
But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas’s life.
The amazing cover and awesome title hooked me, and the story didn’t disappoint. Cas is a great main character even if he isn’t always likeable, while his friends are completely endearing. (A group of snarky teenagers fighting ghosts, they give me a Buffy vibe in all the best ways.) Anna herself is tragic and terrifying, though she’s far from the only ghost in the story. The novel is set in Canada, which I would’ve never pegged for an eerie, gothic locale, but that just shows what I know. Creepy and action-packed, this is a memorable read.
Sorrow’s Point (The Marker Chronicles Book 1)
by Danielle DeVor
Not All Exorcists are Equal….One is Marked
When defrocked ex-priest, Jimmy Holiday, agrees to help an old friend with his sick daughter, he doesn’t expect the horrors that await him. Blackmoor, his friend’s new residence, rests upon the outskirts of the town of Sorrow’s Point. The mansion’s history of magic, mayhem, and death makes it almost a living thing – a haunted mansion straight out of a Stephen King novel. Jimmy must decide if the young girl, Lucy, is only ill, or if the haunting of the house and her apparent possession are real.
After the house appears to affect him as well with colors of magic dancing before his eyes, rooms warded by a witch, and a ring of power in his voice, Jimmy is met by a transient who tells him he has “the Mark”. Whatever being “marked” means, Jimmy doesn’t care. All he wants to do is help Lucy. But, helping Lucy means performing an exorcism.
I was lucky enough to beta-read this before it came out, but I made the mistake of reading it after dark, and… Well, I’ll never make that mistake with any of Danielle’s books ever again.
Blackmoor, the creepy old house the story is centered around, is a character in its own right and not somewhere I’d want to go anywhere near. All the characters, from ex-priest Jimmy to the troubled family he’s helping, are well-developed and realistic–basically good people but certainly not without flaws. Their relationships give this dark book heart and make you cheer for them as they face all sorts of terrors. I’m glad I didn’t wimp out and stop reading, because the ending is satisfying but not what I expected.
Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper
by J.L. Bryan
Ellie Jordan’s job is to catch and remove unwanted ghosts. Part detective, part paranormal exterminator, Ellie operates out of Savannah, Georgia, the most haunted city in the United States.
When a family contacts her to deal with a disturbing presence in the old mansion they’ve recently purchased, Ellie first believes it to be a typical, by-the-book specter, a residual haunting by a restless spirit. Instead, she finds herself confronting an evil older and more powerful than she’d ever expected, rooted in the house’s long and sordid history of luxury, sin, and murder. The dangerous entity seems particularly interested in her clients’ ten-year-old daughter.
Soon her own life is in danger, and Ellie must find a way to exorcise the darkness of the house before it can kill her, her clients, or their frightened young child.
This is another one with a great atmosphere, and the history of the haunted house it’s centered on is fascinating. The interplay between Ellie and her younger protege brings some humor to the otherwise chilling story. I found it really interesting to read about the technology they use to investigate the supernatural, which was obviously well-researched and gives the book a more grounded feel compared to other urban fantasies. Overall, it’s just a great ghost story, and at the time of this writing, it’s free to download.
by Gretchen McNeil
Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her over-protective mom, by Matt Quinn, the cute son of a local police sergeant, and by the eerie voices she can suddenly and inexplicably hear. Unfortunately for Bridget, the voices are demons—and Bridget possesses the rare ability to banish them back to whatever hell they came from. Literally.
Terrified to tell her friends or family about this new power, Bridget confides in San Francisco’s senior exorcist, Monsignor Renault. The monsignor enlists her help in increasingly dangerous cases of demonic possession, but just as she is starting to come to terms with her freakish new role, Bridget receives a startling message from one of the demons. And when one of her oldest friends is killed, Bridget realizes she’s in deeper than she ever thought possible. Now she must unlock the secret to the demons’ plan before someone else close to her winds up dead—or worse, the human vessel for a demon king.
Set in foggy, eerie San Francisco, this book has plenty of plot twists. Bridget is a fantastic main character who brings some excellent wit and sarcasm to the terrifying situations she’s forced to face. Grieving over the recent death of her father, she has a rocky relationship with her mom, adores her little brother, has two strong friendships, and a love interest, all of which make her a complex and realistic character.
She’s also scared of dolls, so of course there’s a terrifying scene set in a doll shop. If creepy dolls aren’t your thing, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Are you a horror fan or a wimp like me? What are your favorite spooky reads? Leave your Halloween recommendations in the comments!