Thursday, October 1, 2020

Spooky Book Recommendations for Halloween

It's October 1st, the official start of Halloween Season, in my opinion.

In honor of it being the most spooktacular time of the year, I reached out to a couple of my friends and social groups and asked for their favorite "spooky" (not all necessarily horror) book recommendations.

The first set of recommendations comes from my Foreign Horror Movie watch group, so I know they have great taste in all things spooky. Both Astra and Sunil recommend: HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski.

Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth -- musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies -- the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.

Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.

The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story -- of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.

Astra also recommends:

In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella “Especially Heinous,” Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naïvely assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgängers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

Taking readers deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate.

"Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red." For those who only know Clive Barker through his long multigenre novels, this one-volume edition of the Books of Blood is a welcome chance to acquire the 16 remarkable horror short stories with which he kicked off his career.

These enthusiastic tales are not ashamed of visceral horror, of blood splashing freely across the page: "The Midnight Meat Train," a grisly subway tale that surprises you with one twist after another; "The Yattering and Jack," about a hilarious demon who possesses a Christmas turkey; "In the Hills, the Cities," an unusual example of an original horror premise; "Dread," a harrowing non-supernatural tale about being forced to realize your worst nightmare; "Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament," about a woman who kills men with her mind. Some of the tales are more successful than others, but all are distinguished by strikingly beautiful images of evil and destruction. No horror library is complete without them. --Fiona Webster

Sunil Also Recommends:

14 by Peter Clines

Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches.

There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment.

Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.

At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s.

Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends.

...or the end of everything.

We are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

Harrison was the Monster Detective, a storybook hero. Now he's in his mid-thirties and spends most of his time popping pills and not sleeping. Stan became a minor celebrity after being partially eaten by cannibals. Barbara is haunted by unreadable messages carved upon her bones. Greta may or may not be a mass-murdering arsonist. Martin never takes off his sunglasses. Never.

No one believes the extent of their horrific tales, not until they are sought out by psychotherapist Dr. Jan Sayer. What happens when these seemingly-insane outcasts form a support group? Together they must discover which monsters they face are within—and which are lurking in plain sight.

John Dies at the End by David Wong aka Jason Pargin


You should not have touched this book with your bare hands.

NO, don't put it down. It's too late.

They're watching you.

My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours.

You may not want to know about the things you'll read on these pages, about the sauce , about Korrok , about the invasion, and the future. But it's too late. You touched the book. You're in the game. You're under the eye .

The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.

The important thing is this:

The drug is called Soy Sauce and it gives users a window into another dimension.

John and I never had the chance to say no.

You still do.

Unfortunately for us, if you make the right choice, we'll have a much harder time explaining how to fight off the otherworldly invasion currently threatening to enslave humanity .

I'm sorry to have involved you in this, I really am. But as you read about these terrible events and the very dark epoch the world is about to enter as a result, it is crucial you keep one thing in mind:

None of this is was my fault.


I reached out to another author friend, frequent ATB guest, and member of my Star-War-A-Day watch party (which has now morphed into other movies), Victor Catano, and asked him for his favorites. Here's what he told me:

First, the book that scared me the most as a child. When I was a young lad, I was a huge fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure genre, and when I got a little older I gravitated to the many D&D themed knockoffs, particularly the ones from Steve Jackson studios. The second book was called the Citadel of Chaos. You hacked and slashed through a tower full of monsters, until you came to a room with these monsters called Ganjees. These were floating heads, that glowed in a pitch black room. You couldn't fight them or hack your way past. You could only get past if you found a jar of ointment somewhere in the castle (and you couldn't go back and get it) so you would often die in your journey. I remember vividly having nightmares where I saw these glowing heads in my window coming to get me, before waking up in a sweat.

The most recent book to keep me up at night was Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone In The Dark, her study of the Golden State Killer.  Now I've read a ton of true crime fiction. Like a lot of teens, I went through a serial killer phase reading case histories of the monsters who walk among us. I've read tons of gory mystery novels, and I never had an issue with sleeping. But there was something about McNamara's vivid prose, taking you inside the homes as murderer prowled, that was deeply unsettling. No other book has made me so sympathetic to the victims and their surviving families. This book was hard to read, not because it was bad, but because it was too good. And also, I like to read in bed and a true crime book about a rapist/murderer that attacks people in their beds isn't soothing nighttime reading.

And for my all-time favorite scary stories, I'm going with Clive Barker's Books of Blood (See Astra's recommendation above). Everything about these were deeply disturbing to me as a teen. From the framing device (a con man pretends to talk to spirits, but then the real spirits get pissed off at him and invade his body. They carve and brand the print on his skin, until every inch of his body is covered with words that literally tell the stories of the ghosts and demons.) to the tales of bloody betrayal and body horror that Barker would tell. One I remember well was a tale of a small town in eastern Europe, where rival villages would battle each year in a festival, but they constructed giants made out of the townspeople, standing atop each other. One of the structures went horribly wrong, and it started to lurch across the countryside, spilling broken bodies everywhere.

Clive Barker has such vivid and descriptive prose. It's never overwrought, but the turns of phrase are beautiful and terrifying.


My audiobook narrator friend, Dani, recommends 

The Southern Book Club's Guid to Slaying Vampries by Grady Hendrix

Steel Magnolias meets Dracula in this '90s-set horror novel about a women's book club that must do battle with a mysterious newcomer to their small Southern town, perfect for murderinos and fans of Stephen King.
Patricia Campbell’s life has never felt smaller. Her husband is a workaholic, her teenage kids have their own lives, her senile mother-in-law needs constant care, and she’s always a step behind on her endless to-do list. The only thing keeping her sane is her book club, a close-knit group of Charleston women united by their love of true crime. At these meetings they’re as likely to talk about the Manson family as they are about their own families.

One evening after book club, Patricia is viciously attacked by an elderly neighbor, bringing the neighbor's handsome nephew, James Harris, into her life. James is well traveled and well read, and he makes Patricia feel things she hasn’t felt in years. But when children on the other side of town go missing, their deaths written off by local police, Patricia has reason to believe James Harris is more of a Bundy than a Brad Pitt. The real problem? James is a monster of a different kind—and Patricia has already invited him in. 
Little by little, James will insinuate himself into Patricia’s life and try to take everything she took for granted—including the book club—but she won’t surrender without a fight in this blood-soaked tale of neighborly kindness gone wrong.


Last but not least, one of my best writing buddies, Erica Lucke Dean recommends her favorite spooky books (I'm really glad she mentions Stephen King. Seems this list would be incomplete without him).

Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Ben Mears has returned to Jerusalem’s Lot in hopes that exploring the history of the Marsten House, an old mansion long the subject of rumor and speculation, will help him cast out his personal devils and provide inspiration for his new book. But when two young boys venture into the woods, and only one returns alive, Mears begins to realize that something sinister is at work—in fact, his hometown is under siege from forces of darkness far beyond his imagination. And only he, with a small group of allies, can hope to contain the evil that is growing within the borders of this small New England town.

With this, his second novel, Stephen King established himself as an indisputable master of American horror, able to transform the old conceits of the genre into something fresh and all the more frightening for taking place in a familiar, idyllic locale.


The Shining by Stephen King

Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season

caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

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