25 Spine-Tingling Halloween Books That Will Keep You Up at Night
Read these Halloween books by jack-o'-lantern light
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Halloween books to read on fright night
What is Halloween to you? For some, October is the time for moody reads that take place in dark mansions or fog-shrouded country lanes. For others, Halloween means slasher horror films, vampire reads and creepy Stephen King novels. Whether your tastes run toward cozy ghost stories or gory, blood-chilling thrillers, we’ve got Halloween books to put you in the mood for the spookiest season.
To offer a diverse range of the best books for Halloween, we handpicked bestselling horror novels, stories with Halloween themes (haunted-house tales, slasher satire and vampire books, anyone?) and time-tested scary classics like Frankenstein and Dracula. We’ve also added a few new releases that have gotten buzz from recent readers. Note that these scary Halloween stories are different from the best kids Halloween books—reader discretion is advised!
1. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
If you prefer October merrymaking over murder, you might think Alice Hoffman’s 1995 tale of everyday magic and bewitching family drama is one of the best Halloween books of all time. The heartwarming story of Gillian and Sally—two sisters who want to flee their family’s legacy of witchery—isn’t scary or horrific. Instead, it’s a touching story of sisterhood that’s brimming with magic, romance, a right dash of family conflict and promises of holiday cheer. If you’re looking for a feel-good book that still puts you in the Halloween mood, you’ve found it.
2. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
A much-adored 2020 smash on Goodreads, The Once and Future Witches details the lives of the Eastwood sisters, three 1893 New Salem suffragists fighting for the rights of modern women—real live witches included! This delightful tour of history, fantasy and female empowerment would make a juicy pick for October book club reading. After all, what screams Halloween more than a trio of wild witches?
3. Pet Sematary by Stephen King
The Washington Post called this 1983 horror bestseller “wild, powerful, disturbing.” And is it any wonder? Stephen King himself has knighted it as his scariest book. Prepare to feel skittish for days after reading this blood-chilling story of dead children, a cemetery hiding dark secrets and seething evil with clammy fingers that reach out to hook you beyond the grave. Best Halloween book of all time? If grotesque horror is your thing, then a thousand times yes.
4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
No collection of Halloween books would be complete without mentioning this groundbreaking work of science fiction. First published anonymously in 1818 and again with the author’s name in 1831, Frankenstein has chilled readers in classrooms and libraries ever since. The horrific story of a manufactured monster rejected by society is no bland classic—it’s a chilling reminder of humanity’s sway over life, death and nature. Bonus: You can read it for free on Kindle.
5. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The chills in this 1959 gothic horror classic will creep up on you slowly. Rather than relying on the sort of slasher gore you’d find in classic Halloween movies, Shirley Jackson plays on the fear of the unknown, spurring readers’ imaginations to run wild. The story begins when researcher Dr. John Montague sets up a social experiment at a labyrinthine manor called Hill House. The haunted mansion sets the stage for visitors to experience unexplainable noises, smells and cold sensations. But is Dr. Montague really in control? Participants are about to find out.
6. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
“Fear is contagious. You can catch it. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to say that they’re scared for the fear to become real,” writes Neil Gaiman in this 2008 award-winning children’s book that we swear will delight readers of all ages—especially around Halloween. The Graveyard Book centers on Nobody Owens, a human boy raised by ghosts. There’s fun to be had with the phantoms, sure, but will Nobody ever face his fears and venture beyond the graveyard to face the man who killed his family?
7. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This dark, atmospheric 2020 novel about a woman who suspects her husband is trying to murder her takes place in 1950s Mexico. Though it fits squarely into the Gothic horror book genre, our editors love its lush mansion setting, psychological thrills and supernatural mysteries enough to call it one of the best horror novels ever written and one of the best books by Latinx authors. Whether you opt to dive in now or wait until Halloween, prepare to look over your shoulder for a few days after reading.
8. The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht
“Monster was the best, his favorite word. The first syllable formed a kiss, the second was a hiss,” writes Jennifer Giesbrecht in her 2019 debut, a twisted, nightmarish tale of a monster on a murderous rampage. Terse enough to read in one sitting, this grim little novella will hook your attention and leave you thirsty for more. It’s a horror book in every way: an evil monster, a creepy setting and bucketfuls of bloodthirst. There’s a compelling LGBTQ story line, but don’t go in expecting a sweet romance; this is a monster story, after all.
9. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Even if you’ve never read 1820’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, you’ll know it as the story of the Headless Horseman. A decapitated ghost, haunted townspeople and Gothic atmosphere? Sounds like a deliciously spooky short read for Allhallows Eve.
10. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
It’s Oct. 24, the week of Halloween—the perfect time for a Halloween party. The traveling carnival has finally stopped by little Green Town, Illinois. Is it any wonder that 13-year-old pals Jim and William race to experience the fun? But there’s something off-kilter about the shadowy carnival workers this year. And the people of Green Town are about to get more than they bargained for. Ray Bradbury’s 1962 American horror classic is mysterious and spooky—the perfect book for Halloween.
11. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Readers who have wholeheartedly embraced the dark academia trend in fiction will appreciate that this Halloween book recommendation combines their favorite genre with the holiday’s most famous supernatural creatures. The first of a trilogy, A Discovery of Witches introduces an Oxford scholar and the bevy of witches and vampires that she unwittingly unleashes after discovering a long-lost manuscript in the library. Equal parts sensual romance, historical fiction and addictive fantasy, this book makes a spellbinding Halloween read.
12. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Tamsyn Muir’s 2019 LGBTQ science-fiction fantasy offers a delicious blend of Halloween themes (think skeletons, wizards and dark magic) alongside tongue-in-cheek humor. Meet Gideon, a lesbian warrior plotting her escape from a life of enslavement in a place called Ninth House. But of course, all does not go according to plan. Get ready to throw yourself into a broiling plot full of nervy necromancers, genre-defying world-building, and bizarre twists and turns. If you’re a fan of science fiction or fantasy, get your hands on a copy of Gideon the Ninth—and the sequels you’ll be dying to devour when you’re done.
13. Dracula by Bram Stoker
The daddy of all vampire books, Dracula remains a must on any Halloween reading list. He’s one of the original Halloween monsters, after all. This 1897 novel follows Jonathan Harker, a young Brit on his way to meet Count Dracula at his castle in Transylvania. Despite multiple warnings about the lurking danger ahead, Jonathan trudges onward toward his ill-fated appointment. The dark tale of sharp wits, survival and star-crossed love remains a grisly page-turner for modern readers.
14. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
First published in 1938, Daphne du Maurier’s tale of romance, mystery and domestic intrigue makes for perfect reading in a lamp-lit armchair on a blustery October day. Grab a steaming mug of cider—or perhaps a spiced pumpkin latte?—and settle in. This is one impeccable work of restrained Gothic horror. A blushing bride finds herself stepping directly into the life of her husband’s first wife, a dead woman named Rebecca. But what happened to Rebecca in this sprawling estate? And is it possible for history to repeat itself here?
15. The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
Ah, Grady Hendrix. The master of quirky horror doesn’t disappoint in this 2021 tribute to the final survivors of several popular slasher stories. The girls, based on several horror flicks, band together against one common enemy. If your idea of a perfect Halloween party involves screening Scream, Halloween or Friday the 13th, this one’s for you.
16. Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon
It’s a classic tale of psychological horror, one with unsettling sights and sounds in the fields, and small-town strangers who warn against getting too curious. Thomas Tryon’s 1973 slow burn follows a family of city slickers as they move to a quintessential country setting. Settling in Cornwall Coombe is supposed to make life simpler. Easier. But of course, there’s something sinister lurking in those perfectly planted rows of corn.
17. Ten Great Mysteries by Edgar Allan Poe
If you’re short on time this Halloween, pick up this collection of spine-tingling stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Reading this classic master of atmospheric thrillers and ghost stories will remind you of adolescent camping trips with spooky tales told around the fire. Included works are timeless classics like “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “Lenore” and more.
18. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
This bestseller from 2000 will challenge your belief of what a book can be. In House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski scatters a trail of clues for savvy readers. Expect vertical footnotes, upside-down text and blacked-out words, all intended to suck you into the story of the yawning abyss inside a closet in a quaint home on Ash Tree Lane. Within the strange house, frighteningly bigger inside than it is outside, nightmares can come to life—and perhaps they will. If you’re looking for hair-raising horror, you’ll find it here, in one of the most innovative Halloween books you’ll ever read.
19. White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
Beautiful and terrifying, this 2009 book by Helen Oyeyemi follows the Silver household after a death in the family. There’s always been something strange about the family’s isolated house on the hill. There are secret passages, family whispers and telepathic powers possessed only by the women. But when Miranda starts hearing voices and slowly starving herself, it’s clear that a deeper, darker force is at work. Oyeyemi’s unsettling tale feels like a Halloween ghost story come to life. When you’re done, read these other stellar books by female authors.
20. The Shadow Knows by Diane Johnson
Halloween horrors are all in our heads, but that doesn’t make them feel any less real. Such is also the case for N, a struggling young mother who comes home to a blood-smeared door one day. Or is it really blood? As N obsesses over what might have happened, daily life becomes increasingly riddled with mysteries. The tightrope walk between paranoia and reality makes this 1974 psychological thriller worthy of any Halloween reading list.
by Octavia E. Butler
Here’s a Halloween hook for you: A young girl wakes up with no knowledge of her identity. She soon realizes she is a middle-aged vampire whose memories have been stolen. Readers gave this 2005 paranormal thriller kudos for featuring a Black vampire but noted that the steamy sex scenes in the heroine’s prepubescent body could be disturbing. Still, the book remains a modern classic, and it’s just one of the books by Black authors you should add to your reading list today.
22. Other Terrors edited by Vince A. Liaguno and Rena Mason
Sometimes real-life issues can be just as chilling as blood-curdling Halloween books. This 2022 horror collection relies on both. The anthology features horror stories written by underrepresented voices. These haunting tales include squirm-inducing characters, plot twists and themes of isolation and otherness.
23. The Devourers by Indra Das
Shapeshifting. Gender-fluidity. Lust—and bloodlust. And a cast of nonhuman characters who eat people. Indra Das’s 2017 debut turns Indian folklore on its head in this visceral, disturbing story of a history professor named Alok who becomes entranced by a stranger who professes to be part werewolf. Intrigued, Alok follows the stranger down a dark, twisted path that marries stories from the present and deep past. This is not your ordinary Halloween book, but it’s landed here for mature readers seeking a thought-provoking story that is alternately brutal and breathtaking. Next, check out more books by Asian authors.
24. The Fervor by Alma Katsu
It’s World War II meets horror meets Japanese folklore. After being sent to a Japanese internment camp in 1944, Meiko and Airko Briggs face their biggest challenge yet: a supernatural enemy disguised as a virus that whips infected neighbors into violent frenzies. Breathtakingly scary, this 2022 thriller blends fresh terror with classic Halloween scares, like demons and spiders, and is a chilling choice for fans of historical fiction looking for a fright.
25. Unnatural Creatures by Kris Waldherr
“Some tales aren’t what you think. Nor do they begin when you expect, such as at the stroke of midnight,” writes Kris Waldherr in her forthcoming retelling of Frankenstein. The book is set to hit shelves on Oct. 4, 2022—just in time for spooky season. Highlighting the lives of three women who loved Victor Frankenstein, this dark fantasy is the book to read once you’ve finished Mary Shelly’s classic novel.