The Best Halloween Books for Readers Who are Mad for Monsters

Just in time for spooky season, Observer's must-read horror picks feature classic beasts and bogeymen with a handful of more modern monsters thrown in.

For some, October’s allure has less to do with pumpkin spice and more to do with the thrill of classic beasts and bogeymen: vampires, werewolves and haunted houses, oh my! But not everyone looks forward to turning on a monster movie. There’s just something so satisfying about cracking open a scary story and letting your imagination take over. The classics—Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or even Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House—are definitely worth a read, but there’s also a ton of new horror fiction monster fans should check out this month. With spooky season upon us, getting into the spirit of Halloween is as easy as cracking open one of these titillatingly terrifying titles.

Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas

‘Vampires of El Norte’ by Isabel Cañas. Penguin Random House

Isabel Cañas caters to spooky season readers who want their horror seasoned with a bit of spicy romance. Nena is the daughter of a rancher in 1840s Mexico, and a disease that leaves people drained of blood threatens her family’s land and their way of life. On the brink of the United States invading Mexico, Nena and her old friend, Néstor, help their people to stop the invasion. Vampires of El Norte is part historical fiction, part horror novel with vampires and part second-chance love story. It’s eerie, romantic and perfectly delicious for a night of frights.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (Heathen Edition)

‘Carmilla’ by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Heathen Editions

Le Fanu’s famous 19th-century tale, Carmilla, is a lesbian vampire story published twenty-five years before Dracula about a sexy monster draining innocent maidens at night. This gothic horror has inspired both popular films of the past and the recent wave of queer horror books. There’s no getting around that Carmilla was originally published as an illustration of homophobic stereotypes—something of a cautionary fable against transgressive desire—but in recent decades, queer readers have taken back the narrative. In editor Carmen Maria Machado’s edition, we see queer villains and pleasure in what has become a canonical gothic tale of a lesbian vampire and her relationship with a mortal woman (complete with footnotes and beautiful illustrations). It’s a must-read for anyone curious about the history of horror and queer people’s portrayal in literature.

Bride by Ali Hazelwood

‘Bride’ by Ali Hazelwood. Penguin Random House

Ali Hazelwood takes her first bite of the world of comical-yet-sexy paranormal romance in this story of an arranged marriage between a vampire and a werewolf. Misery Lark, daughter of the powerful Vampyre councilman, has lived most of her life among humans. Misery’s father calls upon her to uphold an alliance between the Vampyres and their enemies, the Weres. Lowe Moreland, the pack leader, is determined to maintain peace for his people. Not long after they tie the knot, the conflict intensifies as a group of rebels known as the Loyals seek revenge on Moreland, enveloping them both in the shadows of family secrets. Bride is a monstrous layer cake of spooks, tricks and treats.

Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison

‘Such Sharp Teeth’ by Rachel Harrison. Penguin Random House

Rachel Harrison is becoming synonymous with the trend of blending horror comedy with feminist rage. And Such Sharp Teeth is the very best of her work to date. Rory has come back to her hometown to help her pregnant sister, Scarlett, when a creature attacks her after she runs into an animal on the road. Following the attack, Rory transforms into a werewolf with superhuman strength and a hunger for meat. Harrison manages to ground the narrative in the real world while adding classical horror touches to a moving story about bodily autonomy, feminist rage and trauma.

I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast is Me by Jamison Shea

‘I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast is Me’ by Jamison Shea. Macmillan

Jamison Shea’s Young Adult horror, I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast is Me, is a great Halloween read for anyone into monstrous dancers, eldritch horror and slow-burn romance. Laure Mesny is a Black girl in the cutthroat world of Parisian ballet, where white girls can easily become top talent while everyone else has to make a deal with a river of blood. While Laure attains the roles she’s worked for, her monstrous instincts pull her down into a grim underworld. If you’d love to see Yellowjackets meet the Invisible Life of Addie Larue, this is the book for you.

How to sell a haunted house by Grady Hendrix

‘How to sell a haunted house’ by Grady Hendrix. Penguin Random House

As fans of Grady Hendrix will expect, this story is both emotional and comedic. A creepy puppet haunts the house of Louise and her brother, Mark, after the passing of their parents in a novel about sibling rivalry, family trauma and mental health. The siblings are estranged and lead completely different lives, but the death of their parents forces them to confront their family memories, including the uncanny silent stares of their mother’s dolls. How to Sell a Haunted House is perfectly made for horror nerds.

The September House by Carissa Orlando

‘The September House’ by Carissa Orlando. Penguin Random House

A stately and underpriced Victorian home turns out to be a haunted house in author Carissa Orlando’s debut novel. Margaret and her husband Hal’s new home is perfect, except that every September, it drips blood and its ghostly former residents appear. After Hal leaves, their daughter Katherine arrives at the house to search for her father at the most inconvenient time. The September House tackles domestic abuse in a classical gothic haunting. Fans of Rachel Harrison and The Haunting of Hill House will love this book, where ‘monstrous’ takes on a new meaning.

Starling House by Alix E. Harrow

‘Starling House’ by Alix E. Harrow. Macmillan

This Southern Gothic is full of nightmares, romance and dark fairy tale magic. Protagonist Opal is trying to scrape up enough money to support her little brother’s dreams of getting out of their small southern town of Eden, Kentucky, and passes by the old Starling House (the town’s famous spooky structure) every day on her way home from work. Arthur, the irascible ward who guards its gates, suddenly offers Opal an unexpected job that would more than pay for her brother’s schooling. Pulled in by the secrets of the house and the nightmare creatures beneath, she’s also drawn toward the brooding Heathcliff-esque guardian within.

Delicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury

‘Delicious Monsters’ by Liselle Sambury. Simon & Schuster

In Liselle Sambury’s Young Adult psychological thriller, the halls of a haunted mansion hide secrets. Daisy Odlin, whose controlling mother inherited the property, recounts a story of abuse and control. Ten years later, Brittney, a Black film student and the creator of a popular web series, investigates the mystery of the house after her own abusive mother turned the story into a bestselling memoir. The real monsters in this book are the horrors of generationally perpetuated abuse and the layers within. Delicious Monsters is a story that takes real life trauma and mixes it with the spooky reality television feel of a paranormal documentary in a perfectly petrifying page turner.

Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison

‘Black Sheep’ by Rachel Harrison. Penguin Random House

Vesper left her family’s toxic religious cult at only eighteen to chase a career in the city, but when she’s invited to her cousin Rosie’s wedding at their family farm, she feels compelled to return home—and to her mother, a neglectful former indie horror film star. But hers is more than just a fundamentalist community; it’s an honest-to-goodness Satanic cult. Part comedy, part horror and totally drenched in classic scary movie tropes, Rachel Harrison’s Black Sheep manages to be both lighthearted and shockingly dark, making it perfect for Midsommar fans and horror nerds alike.


The Best Halloween Books for Readers Who are Mad for Monsters