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The Latest Horror Books That Are Giving Me Nightmares


The Latest Horror Books That Are Giving Me Nightmares

It’s that time again, folks! That time of year when I can wear those demon horns I got at the Ren Faire and gush about my favorite horror titles without people looking at me like I might be a lunatic or a morbid creepster! (Those horns look really good on me.)

Anyway. Last year, I wrote about women in horror… the literary ladies who keep me up all night with their amazing horror books. This year, I wanted to build upon that by mentioning some scary new 2021 titles.

So pull up a chair. Bring your softest, fuzziest blanket. Maybe a warm, toasty beverage. You’re going to need something to ward off those creeping chills.

When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen

When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen - dripping red text over illustration of a river's edge

When I read the premise for When The Reckoning Comes — a Black woman returns to her hometown to attend an old friend’s plantation wedding, only to be pulled into the site’s blood-soaked history in a way she never expected — I was intrigued. I was once invited to a plantation wedding and, in hindsight, I feel it could have done with some angry ghosts hungry for revenge.

That or it should have taken place at an entirely different venue.

The book itself doesn’t pull any punches. As our protagonist begins to grapple with which aspects of her weekend are whitewashed reenactments and which are terrifying glimpses of the actual past, she begins to realize she may have a connection to this particular plantation that’s thick as blood. As events build to a feverish pitch, readers are exposed to some truly gruesome scenes, forcing them to look upon the horrors of slave-era southern life in a whole new way.

All’s Well by Mona Awad

All's Well by Mona Awad - theater mask made up of multicolored pain pills

You may recognize Awad’s name from last year’s horror list. In that list, I wrote about Bunny, a supernatural horror (which takes place within an MFA program; go dark academia!) that defies logical explanation.

You never know what you’ll get from Awad, but she always writes with a sense of dark humor I looove. So I jumped at the chance to read her latest, which also takes place within a college setting, though this time readers are firmly ensconced within the theater department.

In All’s Well, a college theater director suffering from chronic back pain is perpetually at odds with her college-age cast. When they mutiny, refusing to put on the play she’s chosen for them, she is filled with despair. But then three strange benefactors emerge, and things begin to turn around…

I’ll be honest: This tale didn’t thrill me as much as Awad’s previous horror book, and the end still leaves me perplexed, but the protagonist’s evolution from hapless victim of willful students to not-so-innocent vanquisher of all obstacles brought that bit of dark complexity I crave.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward - nighttime illustration of black cat staring up at a spooky old house

It’s difficult to say too much about The Last House on Needless Street without spoiling it. At its most surface level, the book is about a loner of a man who lives in the last house on Needless Street, with only a cat for company. He also sometimes plays host to his teenage daughter. Which is all well and good but something… is just… not… right. Could this guy have had something to do with the disappearance of a young girl years before?

I will say this book is a page-turner and I enjoyed the way Ward tells the story from multiple viewpoints — including that of the cat. But some insist the twist is tired as all get-out, and that it demonizes those who struggle with their mental health. Which is a pretty fair point. (You can read more on this assessment right here after reading the book itself.)

Nevertheless, Ward certainly knows how to spin a tale, and I look forward to reading her next title — Sundial — in the spring of 2022.

Cackle by Rachel Harrison

Cackle by Rachel Harrison - highlighter green text over photo of spiderweb-bedecked tea cup with steam curling out the top

Harrison is another author who appeared on last year’s list. She was there thanks to her debut novel, The Return, and her sophomore effort does not disappoint.

In Cackle, we’re introduced to Annie, a protagonist who seems to suffer from exceptionally low self-esteem, especially in the wake of a breakup with her longtime boyfriend. She aches for reconciliation but resigns herself to a new life in a remote village, where she quickly latches onto a new bestie in a relationship that seems increasingly codependent. But who needs who more… and why do the other villagers seem so afraid of Annie’s new friend?

I’m not ruining anything when I tell you that Annie’s new best bud is a witch. It appears in the book’s description. But how things play out is a delightful surprise.

Same time two years from now, Rachel? (Pretty please?)

The Between by Tananarive Due

The Between by Tananarive Due - a black and pink optical illusion that at first just seems to be a Black man in profile

OK. Technically, this book first came out in 1995 and was Due’s very first novel. But a new paperback edition is being released on Oct. 5 and, well, the title is new to me.

In The Between, a man who survived a near-drowning as a child begins to question the details of that day, particularly after racist hate mail directed at his wife places added tension on his home life and makes him start to lose his grip on reality. This supernatural suspense had me hanging on to every word.

And if you enjoy this one, Due has a hefty backlist of horror books that should keep you busy.

The Lighthouse Witches, C.J. Cooke

The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke - a descending spiral staircase that ends in a seven-pointed star (also known as the faerie or elven star)

This title is the only book on this list I haven’t already read, so I can’t yet vouch for its awesomeness. But the premise has me waiting with bated breath.

According to the book description, The Lighthouse Witches is about two sisters who go missing on a remote Scottish island, near the site of what used to be a prison for women accused of witchcraft. Twenty years later, one of them reappears… but she hasn’t aged a day. Locals mutter about the existence of wildlings and suddenly, YES, I am all in.

This story sounds like so much fun. Thank god I don’t have to wait too much longer to get my hands on it.

Specter Inspectors by Bowen McCurdy, Kaitlyn Musto, and Jim Campbell

Specter Inspectors - illustration of ghost hunting crew approaching a haunted house

Specter Inspectors is about a group of young ghost hunters, one of whom manages to get possessed by a demon while out on the job. Can queer romance still bloom under these circumstances as they race against time to solve an ages-old mystery that will (hopefully) set their friend free?

I read this all-ages, limited-series comic issue by issue over the span of this past summer, but the trade paperback comes out in late October, just in time for Halloween.

I loved this mix of sweet and spoopy and it’s a perfect read for those who enjoy their horror a little bit lighter.

Proctor Valley Road by Grant Morrison, Alex Child, Naomi Franquiz, Tamra Bonvillain, and Jim Campbell

Proctor Valley Road - illustration of four teen girls on a desolate road in the middle of the night

I know what you’re thinking. Those are a lot of dudes on that credit list, and this post is supposed to be devoted to female authors. But it is Franquiz’s artwork that first drew me to this limited-series YA comic (Misfit City, anyone??). Well, that and horror comics are my jam.

This is another one I read issue by issue over the summer, but the trade paperback is due to come out in November.

This series features four high school misfits who stumble upon a vengeful ghost in the middle of the desert. Pissed off that they have dishonored her domain, this ghost plucks victims from amongst those who happen to drive through her stretch of desert along Proctor Valley Road and repurposes them as grotesque, gory monsters. She then sics these monsters on our hapless gals in addition to haunting them herself. Can they bring an end to this ghoul’s horrific reign?

I really enjoyed this story, the character development was fantastic, and the artwork was fire. But if I’m being honest, the pacing faltered in that final issue, when the writers and artists were forced to wrap everything up quickly with a nice, neat little bow. This one could have benefited from a longer run time that allowed it to spin out more slowly. Still, it was a fun ride while it lasted.

My only regret in looking over this list is that, once I read the Cooke book, I’ll have nothing left. 2022 horror? I’m ready for you.

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her more literary work has appeared in Poets & Writers, Creative Nonfiction, VQR, and other publications. Her reported memoir, A DIRTY WORD, came out in 2018. She is the founder of GuerrillaSexEd.org. Favorite Genres: horror, comics, horror comics, and narrative journalism.

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