Published October 27, 2023

Seasonal readings! Had your fill of calmly bobbing for apples? Bored with haunted hayrides? Here are a few book recommendations for the height of spooky season.

Let’s start with a legend, the author who launched a thousand movie adaptations, tv series (*ahem* Mike Flanagan), and literary spinoffs, spooky Shirley Jackson herself. You might’ve read “The Lottery” in high school, but Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is graduate-level scary. In it, a group of strangers visit a reportedly haunted house for research but quickly become subject to its bad vibes. One scene still haunts me: a character reaches out to another for comfort during a power outage, only to realize that it wasn’t her friend’s hand she was holding. (I also recommend Jackson’s slightly lesser-known We Have Always Lived in the Castle which follows two sisters living in a decrepit mansion.) 

I also just finished listening to Elizabeth Hand’s adaptation of Hill House, A Haunting on the Hill, which sends a new set of characters into the infamous house…or rather, the house lures them in with its own terrifying wiles. The audiobook feels more like a radio play, with sound effects emphasizing what happens in the text. Thanks to LibroFM for the advance copy!

Of course, I have to plug the incredible lineup of horror authors who visited the Festival of the Book in March 2023 for “Horror at Holiday Trails:” Paul Tremblay, Stephen Graham Jones, Grady Hendrix, and Sarah Langan. Paul Tremblay does some incredible meta-style horror: A Headful of Ghosts follows the stars of a reality tv show, a family whose daughter is possessed (maybe?), interspersed with episode commentary from fan blogs. Stephen Graham Jones writes action-packed slashers like no other–who can forget the viscera-filled lake at the end of My Heart is a Chainsaw? He’s incredibly prolific and the third book in his Indian Lake series is coming out March 2024. 

Sarah Langan’s Good Neighbors was a real surprise for me, mixing a claustrophobic suburban hellscape with climate anxiety and magical (sur)realism. The story developed like a true-crime thriller and watching those cul-de-sac dynamics play out as neighbors turned on each other was truly intense. How to Sell a Haunted House, Grady Hendrix’s most recent book, was also a surprise–I was prepared for wild, evil, animated puppets, but I wasn’t ready for the psychological read on family dynamics and sibling relationships. Hendrix shows us the breadth of the horror genre: how it can encompass aspects of so many other genres (comedy, action, drama) and uses that leeway to show us something unexpected.

I picked up Sara Gran’s The Book of the Most Incredible Substance from a Little Free Library on a Friday afternoon…and finished it by Saturday morning. The plot is a wild mash-up of Da Vinci Code, NSFW romcom encounters, and the internal dramas of the antiquarian book dealer circuit. Her short novel Come Closer is also incredibly gripping and follows a woman’s descent into possession. 

One scene still haunts me: a character reaches out to another for comfort during a power outage, only to realize that it wasn’t her friend’s hand she was holding. 

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House

Alma Katsu is another horror (and thriller) writer whose work is a weekend-killer: start one of her historical horror novels and you won’t be able to put it down until you’ve finished it. The Deep follows a survivor of the Titanic who begins to experience haunting flashbacks while working on the Titanic’s unsunk sister ship. The Hunger introduces a supernatural twist to the traumatic tale of the Donner Party. I also recommend The Indifferent Stars Above, a nonfiction account of the Donner party’s travails from Daniel James Brown–because the real-life downfall of the Donners is terrifying in itself. 

Finally, I’m currently listening to Johnny Compton’s The Spite House. In it, a father on the run with his two daughters must take a job renovating a haunted house. The family relationships are clear and engaging–making me all the more worried for whatever’s going to happen once they get in that house!

For more spooky season thrills and chills, learn the real history behind Virginia’s own witch trials in this blog post from our friends at Encyclopedia Virginia.

Witches of Virginia

By Patti Miller

It’s believed that there were about two dozen witch trials in Virginia between 1626 and 1730. So why aren’t Virginia’s accused witches as famous as the witches of Salem and New England?

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