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by Kaitlin McManus | October 30, 2019


creepy book desk

Happy Halloween! I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve been trying to cram as much horror, gore, and chills into the season as possible. One way I’ve been doing this? On my commute, of course. Horror books have a way of sucking you in. That’s why they work—if you’re not fully engaged, they're not scary. And because of how engrossing they are, they can make commutes go by in a flash. So I thought I’d share some commute-ready horror recommendations for those of you who love this time of year as much as I do.

As with all my reading lists, these books are from the past few years. My logic being that you already know Stephen King, Frankenstein, and The Exorcist. We all do—no one needs to recommend them anymore. So check out these fresh horror and suspense picks that can help give your commute that creep factor you’re itching for.

Imaginary Friend—Stephen Chbosky

You probably remember Stephen Chbosky from his last work, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Well, he’s back (20 years later) with something that’s far removed from his high school classic. In Imaginary Friend, seven-year-old Christopher vanishes in the woods. Six days later he comes back—with a voice in his head telling him to build a treehouse by Christmas, or else. Small-town horror with slow-burn suspense? Yes, please.

The Tenth Girl—Sara Faring

A finishing school in the Patagonia region is rumored to be cursed, but new teacher Mavi doesn’t believe it. Anything’s better than the Argentinian military regime she ran from. Then one of her students goes missing, and the remaining students and teachers are … different. The book engages with Patagonian myth in a way that’s supremely creepy and perhaps something new for readers.

Experimental Film—Gemma Files

A film history teacher dealing with her son’s autism diagnosis copes by taking a dive into the lost film collection of a director who mysteriously disappeared. In doing so, she ends up inviting sinister forces into her life to prey on her and her family. The novel is exactly as experimental and strange as the title would have you believe, with a heaping helping of scary.

Come Closer—Sara Gran

Amanda’s life is perfect—and then she starts hearing the tapping in the walls. Her personality becomes more volatile. Animals are hostile towards her. So what’s going on? Possession, that’s what. From the perspective of the woman possessed, as opposed to from the outside like many other books in the genre. This book clocks in under 200 pages, and let me tell you, it scared the pants off of me.

We Sold Our Souls—Grady Hendrix

Kris’ heavy metal band was supposed to make it big—then lead singer Terry went solo, finding fame and fortune. Twenty years later, Kris is the night manager at a Best Western in rural Pennsylvania, until she finds out that Terry sold his bandmates' souls to the Devil for his fame. Kris gets the band back together to go find him and make him pay for ruining their lives—and afterlives. It’s a book only the great Grady Hendrix could write.

Full Throttle—Joe Hill

It’s sort of an open secret that Joe Hill is the penname of Joe Hillström King—as in Stephen, his dad. To the best of my knowledge, writing skill isn’t a genetic trait. But Hill has written a ton of books, most well received and many adapted (the most recent of which was NOS4A2, on AMC), and Full Throttle is the latest in his bibliography. It’s a story collection, and each tale is fraught with suspense and horror. And a pair of them were co-written with dear old dad, so there’s that going for it, too.

The Grip of It—Jac Jemc

In this literary take on horror, Julie and James move to a new house in order to start fresh. But the house is creepy and weird, not to mention seemingly alive and sometimes harmful to the couple. They have to find out what’s tainting their house, and in doing so, explore what home can mean to us and our relationships.

The Hunger—Alma Katsu

Remember the Donner Party—the wagon train that got stuck in the Sierra Nevada and had to resort to cannibalism before they could be rescued? In this fictionalized version, Katsu provides a supernatural spin to the story of these ill-fated pioneers. The wagon train is struck with tragedy the moment they set out west. Rumors abound that matriarch Tamsen Donner is a witch, responsible for their misfortunes. But as the party is mired by treacherous conditions, they’re forced to wonder if perhaps there’s something else out to get them in the mountains—something evil.

The Fisherman—John Langan

John Langan is perhaps one of the lesser known horror masters—but he helped found the Shirley Jackson awards, so the guy definitely knows what he's doing. In his book The Fisherman, two widowers with a shared passion for fishing hear legends of Der Fisher (“The Fisherman”), a mythical figure associated with a creek in upstate New York. At first it seems too fishy to be true (sorry, couldn’t help myself), but it quickly devolves into a creepy black magic adventure about loss and grief. Half literary, half horror, all awesome.

The Ballad of Black Tom—Victor LaValle

Everything LaValle writes is excellent, in my humble opinion, but The Ballad of Black Tom holds a special place in my heart. It’s a retelling of H.P. Lovecraft’s story “The Horror at Red Hook.” If you’ve ever heard someone call Lovecraft a racist or bigot, that’s the story to which they’re likely referring. In The Ballad of Black Tom, LaValle tells the tale from the perspective of a black man and turns a story that existed to bemoan and deride Brooklyn’s immigrant population into a story that celebrates it. All without losing any of those sweet Lovecraftian eldritch horrors.

A Head Full of Ghosts—Paul Tremblay

And, to wrap it all up—the book I’m reading at this very moment. It recounts the tale of the Barrett family: Teenager Marjorie struggles with schizophrenia, and doctors can’t help. The family turns to a local priest, who suggests both an exorcism and a production company to film it, to ease the family’s financial struggles. Things go dreadfully wrong. The story is told by Marjorie’s sister 15 years later in a deeply unsettling twist on the exorcism genre.