I am a certified hater of horror movies. Hater is probably too strong of a word, since I am actually just too terrified to watch horror movies and therefore shut down anyone who suggests one to me. However, that has not stopped me from reading (somewhat) spooky books! The following is my recommendation list of spooky (and sometimes only spooky-ish) novels for horror-movie haters, hopefully with options for both the faint-hearted readers who still want to test their limits and the scaredy-cats who have zero interest in trying.
- “Sign Here” by Claudia Lux
I’m going to be honest: I have started many other books purely as attempts to recreate the joys of reading “Sign Here.” This book is beyond brilliant. It’s a genre-bending masterpiece about a man who went to Hell and now makes deals with people who want to sell their souls. The world building is fantastic, and the novel surprised me by being way more of a thriller than I thought it would be. I have recommended “Sign Here” to so many people and will recommend it to so many more. It’s hilarious and existential, and I did stay up way too late because the final chapters were so gripping. If you’re reading this book for the first time, it’s hard to tell you how lucky you are!
- “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“Mexican Gothic” is one of the more traditional horror novels on this list (although I consider it closer to thriller). In this book, heiress Noemí Taboada receives a very frantic letter from her cousin claiming the mansion she has moved into with her new husband might be haunted. Noemí goes to film and finds the house filled with weird British people who are obsessed with eugenics, and that’s not even the creepiest part! Read this book if you want a unique take on colonialism in Mexico, a thriller with supernatural elements and a capable main character.
- “We Sold Our Souls” by Grady Hendrix
“We Sold Our Souls” is a love letter to metal, but as someone who is not familiar with the genre’s lore, I still really enjoyed this book (and also ended up learning a lot from it!). It follows Kris, a former member of a metal band that never hit it big. However, the band’s lead singer, Terry, has become incredibly famous, but only after selling the souls of his bandmates. The most fascinating part of the book is that the concept album the band wrote before breaking up has become a little too real, and Kris has to act out a metaphorical (and sometimes more literal) version of the album’s storyline to find and confront Terry. I have never read a novel quite like this one, and I had such a good time with it. If you end up trying “Sign Here” and like it, this is an excellent choice for your next read.
- “Vicious” by V. E. Schwab
What’s a spooky recommendation list without a little dark academia? It’s hard to get darker than this: College roommates Victor and Eli discover that when someone has a near-death experience, that person can develop extraordinary powers. Of course, the two decide they need to try this out on themselves. “Vicious” is told between two timelines and unfolds with such brilliant pacing. If you enjoy the first book (which I am sure you will), there is also a fantastic sequel!
- “The Dead Romantics” by Ashley Poston
Forget dark academia, what’s a spooky recommendation list without a little romance? “The Dead Romantics” is about an author who is not only a ghostwriter but can also see ghosts (one of whom just happens to be her new editor). It’s a cute read that also deals heavily with grief in a really sincere and meaningful way. No spoilers, but I hope you appreciate the happy and sentimental ending as much as I did.
- “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson
“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is a classic of the horror genre. It is a story about a large family that has been reduced to just three people: a young girl, her older sister and their uncle. Although the reader will pretty quickly figure out what happened the night the rest of the family died, the main point of the book is to understand the psychology of the narrator, the family’s young daughter. She is a fascinating and bizarre character who will unsettle you but pull you in. As a bonus, this book is pretty short! You could finish it in a day and help yourself reach your reading goal for the year a little faster (the clock is ticking, after all).
- “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman
“The Graveyard Book” is marketed for children, but I promise that a person of any age could read and enjoy it. It follows a young orphan raised in a graveyard by ghosts. It is both a magical realism novel and a coming-of-age story. If this is your introduction to Neil Gaiman, then I am so happy for you! Get ready to meet a fantastic author. Read this book if you think you will like a large cast of characters, a bittersweet metaphor for leaving home and a brilliant writing style.