13 Terrifying Horror Books You Should Read this Halloween – Chicago Review of Books


By the pricking of our thumbs, something wicked this way comes at the Chicago Review of Books. We’ve been brewing up this list of our favorite recent horror books to fill your Halloween with frights of all kinds. A dash of monsters, a pinch of vampires, a draught of ghosts: these are the ingredients for a most powerful horror potion. But beware, readers! You may find yourself transformed by these books and wondering why you can’t read horror all year round.  

Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror
Edited by Jordan Peele and John Joseph Adams
Random House
Published October 3, 2023

Thanks to films like Get OutUs, and Nope, Jordan Peele’s name quickly became synonymous with socially critical Black horror. You bet we’ve been eager to read his and John Joseph Adams’s anthology featuring an all-star cast of 19 Black writers, including N.K. Jemisin, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Cadwell Turnbull. Each of the powerful stories in Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror explores the real-world horrors of anti-Black racism and violence, whether through historical or supernatural worldbuilding. As Peele said in a recent interview with NPR: “when you apply horror to the Black experience, you come up with a lot of nightmarish realit[ies].”

Our Share of Night
By Mariana Enriquez
Translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell
Hogarth Press
Published February 7, 2023

There’s a long tradition of great vampire books, from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (recently re-released with an introduction and notes by Carmen Maria Machado), to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. International Booker Prize-shortlisted Mariana Enriquez has quickly become known as one of Latin America’s most original novelists, and her vampire book belongs among the very best. Expertly translated by Megan McDowell, Our Share of Night is an epic with everything you’d want from vampiric horror: family legacies, religious angst, bloody violence, demons, desire, queerness. As soon as you sink your teeth into this one, you won’t let go.

The Salt Grows Heavy
By Cassandra Khaw
Tor Nightfire
Published May 2, 2023

If you’ve been looking for a beautifully gory book you can read in a sitting or two, Cassandra Khaw’s The Salt Grows Heavy will delight and horrify you. This novella pushes the darkness of Hans Christian Anderson’s original “The Little Mermaid” to its most grotesque conclusion. After marrying the prince, the mermaid—not at all little, and with pin-sharp teeth—births his children, who then devour him and his entire kingdom. What happens next in this tale of survival could only be conjured up by Khaw.

Maddalena and the Dark
By Julia Fine
Flatiron Books
Published June 13, 2023

“The Little Mermaid” has had a productive year so far. As Julia Fine explained in our recent interview, this fairy tale about a female giving up her music and her voice influenced her latest novel about two girls studying music in 17th-century Venice. While sumptuously rendering the eerie canals, dark masks, and mysterious gondoliers of the Venice Carnival, this gothic coming-of-age story feels like Olivia Rodrigo meets The Phantom of the Opera. Add in a Faustian bargain with magical lagoon waters and the plot accelerates, terrifyingly.

O Caledonia
By Elspeth Barker 
Scribner Book Company
September 20, 2022

While you’re waiting for the new season of Wednesday, pick up another rediscovered classic with a witchy girl protagonist. Scottish author Elspeth Barker’s O Caledonia was first published in 1991 and described by Ali Smith as “one of the best least-known novels of the twentieth century.” One year before Barker’s death, this gothic tale of an unloved, awkward heroine in the Scottish Highlands was re-released with an introduction by Maggie O’Farrell. Bleakly beautiful, this book is for anyone who ever memorized poetry by heart and kept unusual animals as pets.

The Man Who Could Move Clouds
By Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Doubleday Books
Published July 12, 2022

Ingrid Rojas Contreras suffers temporary amnesia after a bike accident in Chicago—just as her mother did, decades earlier, after falling down a well in Ocaña, Colombia. When her mother’s memory returned, with it came a new ability: to see and hear spirits. These were the same gifts Contreras’s grandfather possessed, as he was a curandero who had the magic to divine, heal, and move clouds. Both a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, The Man Who Could Move Clouds is an astonishing, lyrical memoir of family legacy and lore that illustrates how terrifying it is to lose one’s memory, and how essential looking back can be if we want to move forward.

Natural Beauty
By Ling Ling Huang
Published April 4, 2023

You know how a good horror story can make you afraid to walk down your own darkened hallway? Ling Ling Huang’s Natural Beauty will make you afraid to put on face lotion. Those dietary supplements you’re taking? Now the thing that goes bump in the night. Huang’s narrator is a gifted pianist and the child of Chinese emigrants who fled the Cultural Revolution. When she lands a job at a beauty and wellness store in New York City, this page-turner transforms body horror into beauty horror. Huang’s debut has everything: Doctor Moreau-esque science fiction, ecohorror, queer love, a feminist examination of beauty and power, and a heartbreaking immigrant tale.

Extended Stay
By Juan Martinez 
University of Arizona Press
Published January 17, 2023

Being trapped in a haunted house is horrific enough. Chicago writer Juan Martinez ramps up the horror even more, turning the prototypical haunted house into a Las Vegas hotel and the trapped residents into migrants in limbo. When siblings Alvaro and Carmen seek refuge in the Alicia hotel, they find that it is somehow embodied, monstrous. The result is an intense, Lovecraftian horror story hosting both the subjective terrors of traumatic memory and the sociopolitical terrors of violence against immigrants. Come for the cosmic body horror and leave—if you can—never thinking of teeth the same way again.

The Marigold
By Andrew F. Sullivan 
ECW Press
Published April 18, 2023

See Also

How about some ecohorror that also scratches that “capitalism is ruining the world” itch? Like Juan Martinez’s Extended Stay, Andrew F. Sullivan’s dystopian novel The Marigold spotlights the horrific realities we often choose to ignore while centering around a building, this time a crumbling condo in near-future Toronto. For anyone who stays awake thinking about the climate crisis, the rising cost of urban housing, billionaires’ unchecked greed, and the gig economy, this book will show you what could be built with our current precarious existence. If sludge enters your nightmares, don’t blame it on Sullivan.

Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology
Edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. 
Published September 19, 2023

The best horror is unsettling, and the stories in Never Whistle at Night ask the question, “Are you ready to be unsettled?” This Indigenous dark fiction anthology—edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. and with an introduction by Stephen Graham Jones—is packed with stories by an incredible list of singular writers, including Tommy Orange, Morgan Talty, Kelli Jo Ford, and Chicago native Nick Medina. Never Whistle at Night is filled with imaginative tales: some featuring curses and spirits and revenge, yet all wholly original. We dare you to read this book at night.

Here in the Night
By Rebecca Turkewitz
Black Lawrence Press
Published July 21, 2023

“Love and horror are so easily conflated; the boundary between passion and terror is not always clear,” writes Rebecca Turkewitz in her head-turning debut, Here in the Night. In each of these thirteen eerie stories, Turkewitz mines the emotional experiences of her female, often queer protagonists to demonstrate just how unclear that boundary between passion and terror is. There are haunted houses and abandoned churches, ghosts and monsters—but the terror at the heart of human relationships beats most steadily. Prepare to read the contemporary queer ghost stories against which all others will be measured.

By Cynthia Pelayo
Agora Books
Published February 21, 2023

Like Goosebumps for adults, these fairy tales will make your skin crawl. Bram Stoker Award winner and Chicago native Cynthia “Cina” Pelayo is known for writing Latin American fairy tales that begin tamely enough, only to jolt you with the final sentence. Lotería is one of her many books that expertly crosses genres, moving between folkloric traditions, fantastical imaginings, and paranormal spookiness with ease. In this collection, Pelayo transforms the cards from the Mexican board game Lotería into creepy short stories, poems, and a novella. The card you draw is never what you expect. 

Skyward Inn
By Aliya Whiteley
Published March 16, 2021

Don’t worry, we’d never leave aliens off this list! In Aliya Whitley’s Arthur C. Clarke Award finalist, Skyward Inn, Earth makes contact with Qita, a supposedly harmless planet. What starts out as a cozy science-fictional portrait of village life soon turns into something more unsettling, then horrific. Then transcendent. The centerpiece of the book is one of the greatest body horror images we’ve ever come across. For readers of Jeff VanderMeer, Ursula K. Le Guin, Angela Carter, and Michel Faber, Skyward Inn will have you asking what it means to be part of the human community.


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