An image of a book on top of fall leaves for an article on Halloween book recommendations.

4 Spooky Halloween Reads for Not-So-Spooky Readers

Not everyone can handle hardcore horror, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some creepy fall reads. If you’re a scaredy-cat, like me, this list is for you.
October 18, 2020
7 mins read

With Halloween just around the corner, getting into the spooky mood is a fun way to celebrate. However, not everyone is a fan of the horror genre often associated with the holiday. The following books aren’t necessarily “scary,” but they have that special quality where it’s just enough to satisfy that curiously sinister part in all of us. Without a doubt, these books will get you into the Halloween mood.

1. “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is a renowned author in the young adult genre, but she dives into the adult world with this stunning debut.

Ninth House” is the first book in — as of right now — a duology. Galaxy “Alex” Stern wakes up in a hospital with an offer to study at Yale and a big secret: Her best friend and ex-boyfriend are dead, and only she knows why. But, somehow, she’s still let off the hook and with a full ride to one of the most prestigious schools in the country. She knows she doesn’t deserve it — she didn’t even graduate high school — so why is Yale interested?

Be ready for ghosts (or Grays, as they call them), secret societies, murder, occult activities and a huge mystery: Where’s the Virgil to Alex’s Dante? The characters are stunning, relatable and the reader can’t help but love them. Not only does this book begin on Halloween, but you’re immediately transported to Yale’s campus and its mysterious world of academia.

But not everyone shares my opinion of this book’s quality. Reader and booktuber extraordinaire Whitney Atkinson writes in her review: “I feel like she tried to do too much all at once, and so I came out of the book not quite comprehending what just occurred.” And I agree. A lot happens in “Ninth House,” so I just think it’s one of those books where some people connect with it and many others don’t. But I absolutely think it is worth giving the chance, especially if you’re in the mood for some dark academia. Because, trust me, this one gets dark.

If any of the previous information appeals to you and gets your creepy sense tingling, don’t hesitate to pick it up. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed.

2. “If We Were Villains” by M.L. Rio

Keeping in line with the dark academic theme, “If We Were Villains” takes place in a college where students specialize in art. Our cast of main characters consists of seven students in the Shakespeare department. The school is competitive and the characters have spent the last three years together like a family, so it’s safe to say that tensions are high. We see that in the first few pages of the book.

The dynamics between the characters are messy and intriguing. There’s romance, jealousy, murder and, of course, Shakespeare (and a Halloween party, too). The timeline switches between 1997 and 2017, when one of the students, and the narrator for the 368 pages, Oliver Marks, is released from jail. What for? You’ll have to read to find out.

This one isn’t as gory as “Ninth House,” but you still get that essence of fall and darkness that only comes with a mysterious setting. Though I can assure you, I still got goosebumps a few times. And be prepared for an unsettling ending.

One of its readers on GoodReads puts it plainly: “Folks, when you come across this book, you’ll hear a voice saying, ‘Oh, this one sounds interesting! Do it.’ That’s the devil talking.” There you go. You know what to do.

3. “Verity” by Colleen Hoover

If you’re into books at all, you might have heard of Colleen Hoover and probably wondering why she — a romance writer — is included here. In 2018, Hoover branched out and wrote this uncomfortably horrifying novel. Again, remember I’m not the most adventurous horror reader in the world, so it might not be the case for everyone. But personally, this one made me feel unsettled and uncomfy.

We, once again, get two points of view. One from the main character, Lowen Ashleigh, and another from a comatose writer in the form of her hidden autobiography. Lowen is contracted to finish another book from the esteemed writer, who is incapacitated after her accident. She finds a copy of the autobiography, and what she finds there are confessions that make her think twice about keeping this job. But her bank account is in need of the money and the husband isn’t half-bad to look at. So Lowen stays.

The house — or mansion, rather — where this story takes place is the perfect setting. There are secrets everywhere and the ending will literally make you drop the book (speaking from experience). No Halloween parties in this one, but you won’t miss them because there’s so much more going on. To give you some more perspective, this is the first line of the book: “I hear the crack of his skull before the spattering of blood reaches me.” If that doesn’t drag you in, I don’t know what will.

4. “Night Film” by Marisha Pessl

In this book, the main character is journalist Scott McGrath who suspects that the death of Ashley Cordova, daughter of cult-horror film director Stanislas Cordova, wasn’t just a suicide. After joined by two underdogs, Nora and Hopper, the three become an unlikely team united by their eagerness to solve Ashley’s mysterious case and try to get more information about Cordova.

The true eerie element of the book is the aforementioned director, Stanislas Cordova, who has a huge fan base that follows his horror movies religiously. He is a true mystery; no one really knows anything about him other than what is portrayed in his movies. Which, of course, leads to fans — and amateur investigating teams like our main characters — to make up their own theories about the director.

Ashley’s case and the rumors surrounding her father’s disturbed movies drive the three protagonists to abandoned houses, dark magic rabbit holes and scenes that’ll bring your heart to a sudden stop. If you’re creative enough, you could turn some of the characters into Halloween costumes. Oh, and a visual plus, there’s pictures and files created just for the book.

If you’re leaning more toward a stay-at-home Halloween in 2020, these books are the perfect companion to make you feel as if it were a normal year (because yikes). So enjoy, and happy Halloween!

Eva McCarthy Mínguez, Stony Brook University

Writer Profile

Eva McCarthy Mínguez

Stony Brook University
Creative Writing

Writer in training. Professional reader. In the process of sharing her voice while highlighting others.

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