Happy spooky season, you goblins and ghouls! I hope your pumpkin spice has been extra cozy and your streaming services have stocked all your autumnal favorites. It’s no coincidence that as a columnist for The Final Girl Bulletin Board, September and October are the months I deem most holy. And you, dear reader, I assume have your candy bowls stocked and your costumes at the ready.
Books are one of my favorite venues for goosebumps, spine chills, over-the-shoulder doubletakes this time of year. In celebration, I’ve narrowed down (from a list of 27!) the five books across genres I recommend most often for the Halloweenmood. They’re all a little low on the pepper scale, but, like the cobwebbed mansion off the highway in our go-to slasher films, I hope you’ll forgive the detour.
Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi/Romance/???: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Words cannot distill the awesomeness, so I’ll dive right in:lesbian necromancers in space. Gideon Nav, red-headed warrior badass, is forced to serve as cavalier to Harrowhark (Harrow) Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter (think death cult princess-nun) of the Ninth House. Oddly, both are the only remaining 17-18-year-olds on Ninth, a crypt-like planet where bone magic and skeleton leek farmers reign. Along with representatives from houses Two through Eight, Harrow is nominated by the Emperor Undying (God?) to complete necromantic trials at Canaan House, a decaying, curse-ridden mansion at First House’s planet, to become an immortal Lyctor. The only problem? Gideon and Harrow hate each other. Hijinks ensue. Bone, blood, soul, skin, death, and mind magic mingle into the grossest/coolest mysteries. Can Gideon’s sarcasm and Harrow’s saltiness actually turn into something sweet? There are three more books in the Locked Tomb series if you become obsessed like I am!
YA Novel: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Listen, sometimes YA packs bigger punches than “grown-up” books, and Cemetery Boys stole my heart. Yadriel, a transteen, is increasingly frustrated by his conservative Latinx family’s reluctance to accept his true gender and initiate him into their magical community. He decides to become a brujo without his family’s support. Instead of setting the ghost of his murdered cousin free as intended, he summons school troublemaker Julian, a surprisingly recent addition to the spirit world who won’t leave Yadriel alone. Readers follow Yadriel struggling to hide his newfound power from family, teaming up with new friends to search for his cousin, and, against all expectations, processing his feelings for Julian. It’s at once spooky, heart-wrenching, and heart-warming. Big recommend.
Graphic Novel: My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris
Remember being a kid and imaging so hard you actually BECAME the thing? Karen Reyes, a tween in 1960s Chicago, only sees herself as the werewolf from her favorite TV horror specials. As in, she’s drawn throughout the book doing normal tween things as a tiny werewolf. Like any youngster resisting the pressure to grow up, Karen begrudgingly tries to process the “adult things” in life. Why is her mom so sick? Where does her older brother go when he’s late getting back from work? How did her favorite neighbor suddenly die? Each mystery Karen tries to solve through the lens of her beloved Creature Featureson late night TV. The artwork, narrative, and character development are all staggeringly beautiful, some of the best I’ve experienced in a graphic novel. I devoured all 700 pages in like three days, it was that good.
Novel in Translation: Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
Do you want to have no idea what is happening but be terrified and hooked from the first sentence? Translated from Spanish, this tale is as haunting as it is lightning fast to read. A woman named Amanda finds herself dying in a rural hospital, and the only company by her bedside is a young boy named David. Not her child, David guides Amanda through recounting the events leading up to the hospital. The last thing Amanda remembers is watching her daughter Nina by the pool of their country vacation house, while neighbor Carla recounted her son’s brush with death. Drinking from a poisoned stream didn’t kill him, but Carla laments that he’s no longer the same child. Please don’t spoil this one for yourself through internet searches – devour all the pages, zoom through the fever, then repeat until it starts to make sense.
Creative Non-Fiction: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
And other times, real life is much scarier than fiction.Doughty traces her journey from college graduate of Medieval History to crematory employee in the Bay Area. In some of the loveliest conversational prose I’ve encountered, each chapter Doughty recounts her experiences in the death business. Picking up the deceased from homes with a colleague, the relative ease but risk of potential mishaps from operating the furnaces, the exploration but eventual dislike of embalming. Throughout, Doughty reflects on her encounters with grief, love, fear, ceremony, and societal expectations around death and dying. I was equal parts fascinated, grossed out, comforted, and excited by Doughty’s work to shift the death industry for the better.
What are some of your favorite Halloween reads? Please share those books, flash, and CNF that keep you up at night on Twitter!
Lauren Kardos (she/her) writes from Washington, DC, but she’s still breaking up with her hometown in Western Pennsylvania. Her work appears in Emerge Literary Journal, Rejection Letters, The Lumiere Review, and other fine publications. You can find her on Twitter @lkardos.