This is a guest contribution by Rachel Quin.
Ever since human beings have been able to light a fire and sit around it, we’ve told stories. Foreboding fairy tales, eerie folklore, and ghost stories of weird happenings that send chills down your spine.
Every culture has its own take on the things that go bump in the night. Irish banshees, Greek Hydra, and the Slavic Baba Yaga. The point is, we all love the adrenaline rush of a good scare.
If you liked to stay up late and read Goosebumps as a kid, I’m willing to bet you love spooky season – and the best horror books that come with it.
Now’s the perfect time to curl up with a hot beverage and a page-turning horror, which is why we’ve compiled a list of must-read horror books touching on everything from the supernatural to body horror that will curl your toes.
After all, horror movies are all well and good, but you can close your eyes during the scariest parts. When you’re reading a good horror book, your imagination can be much, much more frightening.
Whether you’re a die-hard horror reader or this is your first foray into the genre, we’re positive you’ll find something that will give you nightmares for weeks to come.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.
The best horror books of all time for Halloween 2023
Read Bird Box for… a New York Times bestselling apocalyptic novel where if you’ve seen what’s out there, it’s already too late.
Now a major Netflix movie, Bird Box is a breathless horror that takes place during an apocalyptic invasion of earth that drives thousands to violence. Why? Because what they saw drove them clinically insane.
We meet Malorie, a survivor of the event quite literally feeling her way through this new world, who decides she must find other survivors and ultimately, a safe place for her two children.
Read The Shining Girls for… a dual-timeline serial killer novel like you’ve never seen before.
Ready for a killer novel with a twist? The Shining Girls is a jaw-dropping thriller about a house that can shift time, an untraceable killer with a list of ‘shining girls’ he must destroy, and a survivor determined to discover what actually happened to the girls who didn’t make it.
What’s incredible about this novel is the dual-timeline story that transports you across time to 1931 and 1992. A heart-racing horror that will have you desperately searching with the protagonist Kirby to find and solve a series of impossible clues.
Read Rebecca for… ostentatious glamour and Hitchcockian vibes in one neat gothic package.
Horror doesn’t need to be full of blood and guts to make it chilling. In this easy-to-read classic, du Maurier makes good use of psychological horror and gothic suspense when a young woman marries a mysterious widower and moves to his magnificent estate.
But soon it becomes clear that things aren’t what they seem, and our narrator finds herself obsessed with discovering what really happened to the first wife. Chilling and suspenseful, there’s a reason this book is a classic (and one of the best classic horror books of all time).
Read Coraline for… one of the best middle-grade horror books that will send shivers down your spine.
If it’s highly praised by Terry Pratchett and Philip Pullman, you know it’s going to be good. Our titular character Coraline lives in a house with 14 doors, but only 13 open. One day, she finds herself on the other side, and becomes tasked with freeing the lost souls of other children who fell for the trap.
A bewitching story of a little girl in an unsettling parallel world filled with a terrifying villain, Coraline is a deliciously creepy novel that has the power to scare the reader, no matter your age.
Read Delicate Condition for… a feminist retelling of Rosemary’s Baby that includes nail-biting body horror.
Fans of American Horror Story will love this new horror book for 2023, because it is quite literally the inspiration for American Horror Story: Delicate, premiering on September 20, 2023. If that isn’t enough to make you go buy it immediately, we don’t know what is.
Dark, tense and absolutely toe-curling, Delicate Condition explores visceral themes of loss, medical misogyny and power in an unsettling story of one woman’s determination to have a child of her own. When she finally falls pregnant, it will either be a dream come true, or a waking nightmare.
Read Patricia Wants to Cuddle for… queer horror mixed with dark comedy and reality TV.
A book that can only be described as gloriously bonkers, Patricia Wants To Cuddle takes us behind the scenes of reality TV series The Catch, a satirical take on shows like The Bachelor and Love Island.
Four women jet off to the series finale on a remote island (there’s your first red flag), ready to find the love of their life. Instead, they find a terrifying secret that will lead to an Elimination Event unlike any other. Nothing says quality reality TV like a few mishaps.
Are vampires back or did they never really leave? It’s hard to say, but if you haven’t read Anne Rice’s spellbinding classic, you’re in for a treat. Full of blood and gore, this is one of the best gothic horror books ever.
Interview with the Vampire, the first book in the Vampire Chronicles series, features a detailed interview with a reporter, in which a vampire recounts the story of his remarkable life. At 200 years old, Louis is a tortured soul in an unchangeable body, who has lost not just his soul but his family.
Read Tender is the Flesh for… stomach-curdling horror in a dystopian world that doesn’t feel so far away from reality.
Warning: This book is likely to cause a visceral reaction. But if you’re committed to the genre and you want something that will inspire real horror and dread, Tender is the Flesh will stay with you for a very long time.
Set in a not-too-distant future, the Argentinian author Bazterrica imagines a world where a virus makes all animal meat inedible. But because meat is considered a staple, laws are passed to make human farming legal. At times sickening, but always page-turning, you’ll find yourself asking important questions.
Read Pet Sematary for… a classic Stephen King story that was deemed too frightening to publish. Read if you dare.
Could we really write a blog about the best horror novels of all time and not include Stephen King? Of course not. There are tons of his books that could have made it to this list, but we’ve settled on Pet Sematary for night of the living dead horror.
The inspiration came when King imagined what might happen if he buried his daughter’s recently deceased cat… and it returned three days later. In this modern horror classic, our protagonist Louis Creed loses his cat, and his son, to a busy road and decides to play God.
Read The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories for… bite-size chunks of reimagined fairy tales and folklore with a deliciously dark, feminist angle.
An absolute powerhouse of a writer who has produced novels, children’s books, poetry and more, Angela Carter is essential reading for any book lover. In The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, she turns her attention to a feminist retelling of beloved fairy tales.
This short story collection features a heart-racing retelling of Bluebeard as the titular story, plus stories based on Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, and Beauty and the Beast. What brings them together as a collection is their focus on highlighting female rage, sexuality, and the monstrous nature of desire.
Read Motherthing for… a ferocious horror comedy that turns a relatable domestic irritation into a literal nightmare.
It’s a tale as old as time. New wife finds it difficult to get along with her mother-in-law. But what if that mother-in-law dies and comes back to haunt you as a sadistic spectre?
In Motherthing, we meet Abby. Her mother-in-law has been suffering from depression, so she moves in with her new husband to care for her. Things go from bad to worse when Abby’s mother-in-law dies. Abby must make the ultimate sacrifice if she wants to save her fledgling family.
Read I Am Legend for… a blockbuster post-apocalyptic novel featuring vampires, a deadly pandemic and if you choose to watch the film too, Will Smith.
Don’t be put off by the idea of a pandemic, this novel was written in the 1950s. In this classic horror novel, the world is obliterated by a plague that kills some… and turns the others into vampires. Only one man survives.
If you love the idea of a claustrophobic horror novel that turns vampire mythology on its head when a human becomes a predator, this is definitely the book for you.
Read Mexican Gothic for… explosive family secrets and a subversive haunted house story that you’ll never forget.
Mexican Gothic is a gothic tale that is tense, atmospheric and pitch-perfect. In it we meet Noemí, a 1950s socialite who receives a desperate letter from her cousin, who believes that her new husband is trying to poison her.
The events that follow deliver the perfect balance of weird and spooky, as Noemí travels to the Mexican countryside and finds herself completely enthralled by the house that invades her dreams. Expect visceral horror and violence, wrapped inside dark family secrets.
Read The Haunting of Hill House for… classic gothic horror by one of America’s most terrifying horror writers.
From one haunted house to another, The Haunting of Hill House is a slow-burning horror classic that helped define the genre. This disturbing haunted house tale follows Eleanor, a woman with paranormal sensitivities, and three other characters as they investigate a haunted mansion.
Things quickly take a turn for the bizarre, as what was initially a light-hearted experiment becomes a nightmare that they may not escape from. It also inspired a bingeable Netflix series featuring Victoria Pedretti – of YOU fame – that you should definitely watch this Halloween.
Read Ring for… a cutting-edge Japanese thriller that inspired the blockbuster Hollywood film, The Ring.
When I think about Ring, I remember watching the 2002 film adaptation at an inappropriately young age and being unable to look behind closed doors for fear of finding a body behind it.
In the original Japanese novel, we meet Asakawa, a chronic workaholic determined to understand why perfectly healthy teens – including his own niece – are dying suddenly of heart failure. His investigation leads him to a remote cabin in the woods and a haunting videotape.
For more of the best books to read for Halloween 2023 (and some cozier choices to complement these horror classics), head over to…
If you adore books, need a bit of a boost, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, check out The Sanctuary, a seven-day course from Tolstoy Therapy.