Boo! With Halloween right around the corner, there’s no better time to get comfortable and crack open a spooky book. Below are a few hair-raising reads that will have you wondering if you really did hear that bump in the night.
“Sorrowland” by Rivers Solomon (MCD, $27). Solomon’s third novel opens with a heavily pregnant 15-year-old named Vera who has decided to flee the strict religious compound (aka cult) where she was raised. Vera manages to escape and give birth to twins in the safety of the woods. However, the woods are just an illusion of security as the ties to her abusive past are stronger than she realizes. Author Roxane Gay said in a Goodreads review, “‘Sorrowland’ is gorgeous and the writing, the storytelling, they are magnificent. This country has a dark history of what it’s willing to do to black bodies and Rivers Solomon lays that truth bare in a most unexpected, absolutely brilliant way.”
“Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Tales of Horror” edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto (Catapult, $16.95). The flash fiction stories in this collection are sure to turn your dreams into nightmares. Kirkus Reviews called the book, “Sick and twisted and troubling.” Going on to say, “Reading it is like stumbling on an old horror movie on TV in the middle of the night.” From serial killers who take Ubers to a demon that lives in an art exhibition, societal ills and bone chills, these tales might be small, but they have lasting power.
“Ring Shout” by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor, $19.99). A short but impactful novella, “Ring Shout” is the perfect mix of magic, horror and historical fiction. Think “Lovecraft Country” meets “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” but with a strong, Black female lead. Throughout the novella, Maryse Boudreaux, her magic sword and her fellow freedom fighters combat a wave of Ku Kluxes — monsters who plan on unleashing hell on Earth. It’s a commentary on the unsettling power of racism and how hate grows and manifests to create creatures devoid of humanity. But what makes “Ring Shout” stand out is that while it is fiction, so much of the storytelling is rooted in New Orleans culture and history, creating a mystical world that feels a little too close to the truth.
“A Deadly Education” by Naomi Novik (Del Rey, $17). You can’t spell spooky without magic! Well, maybe you can, but the two go hand in hand. For fans of “Harry Potter,” this YA fantasy novel takes place at a school for the magically gifted: Scholomance. There aren’t teachers or holiday breaks here — students either graduate or die trying. (Seriously!) Monsters roam the school, and students are warned never to walk the halls of Scholomance alone. But that could all change with the anti-social half-Indian, half-Welsh protagonist El, who possesses a dark power so strong she may be able to rid the monsters that terrorize the school. The downside is that getting rid of them could also mean killing the other students. “A Deadly Education” debuted last year, and the second book in the series, “The Last Graduate,” was released last month.
Like “Harry Potter,” “A Deadly Education” has dealt with some controversy. Shortly after its publication, readers claimed the book was racist because of how the author used dreadlocks in it — Novik has since apologized and all future printings of “A Deadly Education” will not include the offending paragraph. “It’s true that racist undertones in books should always be called out,” wrote Book Riot contributor Namera Tanjeem. “However, I think that sometimes, it is possible to read into a book things that aren’t necessarily there. We should be careful of suggesting that there’s a ‘correct’ way to portray the experiences of certain characters, particularly when the identity under discussion is as heterogeneous as race.”
“The Ex Hex” by Erin Sterling (Avon, $16.99). If you’re looking for a spooky read without the guts and gore, “The Ex Hex” may be for you. Under the pen name Erin Sterling, bestselling author Rachel Hawkins writes the witchy love story of Vivienne Jones and Rhys Penhallow, exes who find themselves working together to save their town of Graves Glen, Georgia, from multiple attacks. And all the while, the spark between the two is reigniting.