- Devin Gackle
10 Halloween Reads for Spooky Season
My Halloween reading preferences are not unlike my Halloween movie preferences in that I prefer the spooky but whimsical, and the dark and gothic (and perhaps even occasionally gruesome), but not terrifying. So, expect some classic gothic novels, modern tales of witches, demons, and spooks, and of course, some mystery, magic, and good haunting fun.
Here’s 10 books and series perfect for Halloween reading.
1. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a historical fiction novel that is absolutely brilliant. One of the things I love about it is how poetic the language is; it’s just well written, period. The author, Katherine Howe, is actually a descendant of two accused witches of the Salem witch trials (Elizabeth Howe and Elizabeth Proctor), which makes her decision to write historical fiction about it all the more interesting.
Connie is a grad student at present-day Harvard researching her dissertation on witchcraft in colonial America. As she searches for a particular historical physick book, she must also clean out her grandmother’s old cottage near Salem to ready it for sale. There she discovers a key in an old bible, along the name Deliverance Dane. As she digs into the past to find out about Deliverance, she starts having visions of Salem’s past, and begins to wonder just how connected her family is to its history, and the book she searches for. During this time she also meets Sam, with whom she forms an instant connection—and is warned by her mother of their family’s curse, in which the men they love always die. When Sam is gravely injured, Connie must race against time to save him, and perhaps discover power she didn’t know she had.
The sequel, The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, continues the story as Connie, now a professor, realizes her family’s curse is beginning to make an appearance; believing the answers to be with her ancestors, Connie must dig through her family history to break the curse and save Sam’s life—something only one of her ancestors, Temperance Hobbs, has ever succeeded in.
2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
I feel like this one’s a given—Bram Stoker’s classic gothic novel has inspired many a Halloween tale since its inception. I know I’ve talked about this book before, but it just felt wrong to leave it off this list. An epistolary novel in the form of letters and diary entries of the characters, newlyweds Jonathan and Mina Harker, their friends, and Doctor Van Helsing work together to get Dracula out of England and put him to rest once and for all. While more slowly paced than one might expect, it’s still creepy as all heck, and the details and storytelling only add to the suspense, mystery, and chills.
3. The Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy by Nora Roberts
I’ve mentioned before why I like Nora Roberts books, and this is one of my favorite series of hers. It follows the lives of two siblings and their cousin—the dark witches three—and three of their closest friends, as they work to battle and evil sorcerer who would stop at nothing to take their power. All three books start with scenes from the 13th century, showing the lives of the first dark witch, Sorcha, and her three children, on whom she bestowed her power before attempting to destroy Cabhan, the evil sorcerer, at the cost of her own life. Then they transition to the present day (modern-day Ireland), in which the circle of six train and look for a way to defeat Cabhan.
In the first, Dark Witch, American Iona travels to Ireland to meet her cousins and the destiny her grandmother told her of; as she learns to use her newly discovered power, she finds the family she’s always wanted and falls in love. Shadow Spell continues the story as the six friends and lovers discover more about Cabhan’s past, and that of Sorcha’s children, who they begin to speak to across time in dreams; along the way, dark witch Connor discovers his love for his lifelong friend, Meara. And the conclusion, Blood Magick, sees Connor’s sister, Branna, and their friend, Fin, struggle with their love for each other as they work to create a spell that will end Cabhan, and for Fin, end the curse a dying Sorcha placed on Cabhan’s lineage; as Fin is descended from Cabhan, he has power as well, but because of his ancestry, Branna and Fin believe they can’t truly be together. And yet, Fin’s blood may be exactly what’s needed to end their families’ centuries-long battle between good and evil.
Full of epic battles of magic, fire and blood, and yes, romance, the Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy is perfect for those Halloween (or Samhain) vibes.
4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I wouldn’t necessarily say I personally get Halloween vibes from this book, but Dr. Frankenstein and his monster are nevertheless integral parts of the modern Halloween experience (whether it be the monster or the mad scientist trope). A different kind of gothic novel, the story of Victor Frankenstein’s quest to create life from death, and its subsequent events and horrors, also presents a new kind of monster. And I don’t just mean the creature made from dead body parts; in some ways Shelley also hints that, perhaps, sometimes the true monster is ourselves, and I like to think the monster Dr. Frankenstein creates is representative of his inner demons. Whether this is the case or not, this classic gothic novel of woe, death, and destruction certainly has modern-day slasher film vibes.
5. The Sign of Seven Trilogy by Nora Roberts
Another Nora Roberts series, the Sign of Seven Trilogy is one to read if you’re more in the mood for something creepy. Blood Brothers, The Hollow, and The Pagan Stone is the story of Cal, Fox, and Gage, three lifelong friends who share the same birthday, July 7th, after they unwittingly release a demon from captivity on their 10th birthday. Since that day, on the seventh day of the seventh month every seven years—what they call the Seven—the demon wreaks havoc on their town of Hawkins Hollow. They’ve always done their best to protect the town, but have never been able to stop the Seven from happening, and over the years the demon’s power only grows.
As their 30th birthday approaches and signs of the Seven grow stronger and appear earlier, two women, Quinn and Layla, are drawn to the town and can see the demon—something no one but Cal, Fox, and Gage have ever been able to see. To help solve the mystery of the demon and Hawkins Hollow’s past, Quinn brings her friend Cybil into the mix, and the group of six prepares to face the demon head-on. As they gather information and fend off the demon’s attacks, they also fight their feelings for each other, and ultimately have to decide what they’re willing to sacrifice to kill the demon once and for all.
6. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Though Nathaniel Hawthorne has plenty of spooky short stories you could read, his novel The House of the Seven Gables is one of gothic mystery. It follows the lives of the Pyncheon family, who are poor, but live in their family’s supposedly cursed mansion. It is believed one Matthew Maule, who had been thought to practice witchcraft, cursed the family after their ancestor, Colonel Pyncheon stole his land; the Colonel later died in his chair. The family’s history is dark and mysterious, and they must stick together to discover the truth of their past if they have any hope of putting it behind them.
7. Poems and Tales by Edgar Allan Poe
You can’t not read some morbid, creepy Poe tales or poetry this time of year—they were just made for some All Hallow’s Eve storytelling. The Raven, A Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado, and so much more, are exactly the kind of short, creepy tales and poems to inspire the Halloween mood.
8. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
For another shorter read, Washington Irving’s classic spooky tale of Ichabod Crane may hit the spot. Another story that’s inspired many other versions and Halloween-esque variations (I’m looking at you, Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow), the headless horseman has been an official spook of legend for quite some time. In one of the most classic ghost stories of all time, we see schoolteacher Ichabod Crane try to woo the wealthy Katrina Van Tassel; noting his superstitious beliefs, Ichabod’s rival, Bram, tells the legend of the headless horseman, which later makes Ichabod’s journey home…shall we say, frightening? Whether or not Ichabod loses his head remains ambiguous, but the legend of Sleepy Hollow still lives.
9. Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
If you like Scooby-Doo and you also like weird, dark stuff, then I recommend this book; even if you’re not a fan of Scooby, Meddling Kids sets itself apart enough, I think, to be its own mystery, while still drawing inspiration from the members and escapades of Mystery, Inc. and other teen mystery-solving and horror archetypes.
As kids in the summer of 1977, Peter, Andy, Kerri, Nate, and their dog, Sean, solve the mystery of the monster in Sleepy Lake, Blyton Hills. But, their lives are irrevocably changed and, 13 years later, they’re still haunted by the events that occurred that night—there’s just too much they still can’t explain. Though they’d since gone their separate ways, the Blyton Hills Summer Detective Club reunites, and they resolve to go back to Blyton Hills and solve the mystery once and for all. With a dark and sarcastic sense of humor, disturbing revelations, unexpected magic, and an epic mystery, this isn’t the Scooby-Doo you know, but it sure as hell has Halloween written all over it.
10. Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel by A.W. Jantha.
I actually haven’t read this one, which is a shame because, as you may recall, I love Hocus Pocus. This is actually two books in one, the first being a book version of the movie. Part two is obviously the sequel. Fans of the movie may be delighted to hear it follows Poppy, the daughter of Max and Allison, and her friends. I don’t know what the Sanderson sisters are up to this time around, but they’re back and they’ve got another plot—and I’m here for it. (Adding to my To Read list ASAP.)
There are of course, much more great Halloween reads than I’ve listed here, so hopefully this list has inspired you to go on a reading journey. Happy Halloween!