Halloween is not the first, nor the last, holiday to be derailed by the pandemic this year. Kids won’t plague the streets in search of sugary treats, and festivities might only involve a party of one, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to revel in a devilish spirit. Grab yourself a cup of hot cider, some fun-size candies, and a cozy blanket to settle in with these spooky reads for an evening of fun and fear.
Prepare yourself for a dive into psychological horror. This collection of short stories is a fantastical, mind-bending journey. “Especially Heinous” will disturb you and have you questioning every episode of Law & Order: SVU you have ever watched. “The Inventory” chills you with its human intimacy at the end of the world. In all of her stories, Machado haunts the mind with realism and myths. They will make you feel powerful. They will make you feel lost.
Perhaps the most unsettling books on this list, The Merry Spinster will keep you up at night, and not for the reasons you expect. Ortberg’s short stories are dark retellings of children’s stories, fairy tales, and folk tales. While the horror in each story is overwhelmingly present, the dissection of gender roles and the feminist twists on classics are what keep your brain churning at night. A princess is someone’s male daughter. A character is given the option to be the husband or the wife. The stories within the collection leave you with more questions than answers. Some people are put off by the lack of concrete concepts, but I believe that the vagueness of it all is entirely the point. The Merry Spinster is an exploration of identities, not a declaration of one.
Hauntingly dreamy, Claire Legrand’s latest standalone novel is a ferocious, femme-forward horror story. Everything about the island of Sawkill Rock is perfect: rolling pastures are punctuated with sleek horses, the dark sea crashes up to meet picturesque cliffs, rich people populate the island in their opulent houses. Everything is great except for the legends of an insidious monster roaming the land—oh, and the decades of missing girls. Three girls are tangled together on a journey to transform their fears into power as they unravel the mystery of what exactly haunts Sawkill Rock and what happened to all of those missing girls. What pleases me most, in addition to the lesbian romantic representation, is the asexual romance. Ace-rep is not something commonly found in popular novels. I was delighted for people to have a chance to feel seen and represented in mainstream young adult fiction.
Let me just sum it up for you: lesbian necromancers in space. This book is my personal favorite on the list. I don’t know how Tamsyn Muir did it, but she has crafted a masterpiece of skeletons, swordplay, and mystique. Harrowhark (Harrow) Nonagesimus, heir to the Ninth House, is invited to the First House of the Emperor to participate in a series of tests of wit and skill. If she and the other heirs survive, they will have a chance to become powerful immortal servants of the Resurrection. None of this will be possible for Harrow without her reluctant cavalier, Gideon. Determined to escape the Ninth House forever and leave Harrow to rot underground with her skeletons, Gideon is roped into Harrow’s trials with the promise of eventual freedom. As the two of them explore the haunted gothic mansion of the First House, deadly secrets spill out and a mystery unfolds. The great news is that if you pick this book up today you don’t even need to wait for the sequel, which arrived on shelves August 2020.