Happy, Happy October!! Halloween is just around the corner, and you know what that means—it’s time to stock up on spooky reads to get you in the Halloween spirit! While the majority of books I read and review here on Crime by the Book could work for your Halloween TBR, perfecting an October reading list is series business, so I decided to turn to the experts for advice. I’m delighted to share a fantastic Halloween guest post from Ania Ahlborn, queen of all things Halloween and horror, recommending her top Halloween reads for your October reading list!
In this post, you'll find Ania's recommended Halloween reads (including a reference to pumpkin spice lattes, which you can bet put a smile on my face!) and a little section written by yours truly, sharing details on Ania's horror titles. As you'll read below, it's become a bit of a tradition for me to read Ania's work around Halloween, which makes this guest post even more fun to share. Happy Halloween reading, friends!
Guest Post: Ania Ahlborn's Halloween Book Recommendations
Autumn is my favorite time of the year. There’s a crisp bite to the air, leaves spiral to the ground like God’s confetti, plastic skeletons start popping up on neighborhood lawns like spooky hired hands…and Starbucks scribbles your name wrong across the side of your pumpkin spice latte. Again. Because of course they did. What’s new?
But beyond the endless pumpkin spice everything, there’s a strange sort of magic to the harvest season; a memento mori of summer, promising death to all that which was once green. And with that season change come the children, decked in white sheets and werewolf masks, garish orange jack-o-lanterns bobbing at their knees. They’re disguised little trespassers with trick-or-treat poised upon their lips, willing to knock on a stranger’s doors for a snack-sized Butterfinger or tiny box of Nerds.
Halloween is a holiday celebrated by communities, a time where neighbors embrace each other’s weird quirks and dark senses of humor—at least, I hope so, or I’m in trouble, because I hacked a dozen azalea bushes down to make room for the hyper-realistic cemetery I’m putting up in my front yard. But if you know me, you’d expect nothing less. This season is near and dear to my heart because of its direct ties to horror, to the spooky ghost stories we all grew up with, the ones that inspired me to become a writer, to weave the twisted stories that I do. We all know it; autumn is when the dead rise from their graves to walk among the living. It’s a time when we turn off all the lights and watch the scariest movies we can find…and read the scariest books ever written. So here, without further ado, are my top five picks for this, the season of horror.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Of the countless horror novels out there, there is one that is the Grand Daddy of them all. Bram Stoker published his gothic masterpiece, Dracula, in 1897. Basing his antagonist on real-life villain Vlad the Impaler, Stoker was the first to bring the folklore of vampires into the mainstream. It’s dark. It’s creepy. It’s quintessential.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Linqvist
If you’re not into old-timey gothic stories, but you still want your dose of vampire lore, Linqvist’s novel is a perfect choice. If you know anything about Norse literature, it’s that it’s unrelentingly bleak. This Swedish novel is no exception. Turning typical vampire stories onto its ear by creating a bloodsucker who is a child rather than a forever-ancient cape-wearing count only makes this book that much more eerie. Because what’s better than monstrous, blood-thirsty children? In my opinion? Not much.
Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
You can’t have Halloween without ravens, and you can’t have ravens without Poe’s sweet, sad Lenore. While Stoker is the Grand Daddy of the horror novel, Poe is the master of the creepy short story and bone-chilling poem. From The Raven to The Tale-Tell Heart, The Black Cat, and Annabelle Lee, each tale and verse is delightfully dreary. If you happen upon an autumn thunderstorm, you need Poe. This is a fact. There is no substitute.
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
Since we’re talking about horror masters, no list would be complete without the King. Honestly, almost everything by Stephen King could be tacked onto a must-read Halloween horror list, but my favorite by far is the short story collection Full Dark, No Stars. Full Dark is exactly that; dark, unrelenting. It is, in my opinion, some of King’s strongest and most disturbing work. The man pulls no punches here, and it’s absolutely thrilling.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
What would Halloween be without our childhood memories of trick-or-treating and creeping each other out? I’m putting Scary Stories onto my list as an ode to our childhoods. It’s a wonderful series to revisit as an adult, as well as a fantastic book to share with kids who have an affinity for goblins and ghouls. Because really, at the end of Halloween night, we’re all just kids dressed up like ghosts and werewolves, hoping to score a full-sized Snickers bar, and dreading the crazed killer that might be hiding in plain sight.
Many thanks to Ania for writing up this fantastic list!! Now that Ania has shared her Halloween wisdom, I want to jump back in and share just a little bit about what I’ve personally loved about Ania’s books. I first tried her books a couple Halloween’s ago when looking for a horror addition to my October TBR, and it’s become a bit of an annual tradition for me! (My first Ania Ahlborn read was BROTHER, and wow did it make an impression on me.) Ania’s books are utterly chilling—from cannibals to monsters lurking in the woods and a whole lot more, Ahlborn’s bibliography is practically guaranteed to have a horror book that you’ll love this Halloween. Plus, as fans of Ahlborn's work will already know, you can always count on Ania to couple terrifying plots with genuinely beautiful writing; she's not just a fantastic horror writer, she's also a fantastic storyteller. Personally, it's this unique and sophisticated coupling that keeps bringing me back for more Ania Ahlborn scares!
You can find everything you need to know about Ania and her books on her website, but below you can find details on her most recent books, plus her recent e-novella! (If you're curious, I'm planning to make my annual Ahlborn Halloween read this year her newest novella, I CALL UPON THEE.)
WITHIN THESE WALLS by Ania Ahlborn (April 21, 2015) // Find it on Amazon
With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed-up true-crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback, one more shot at the bestselling success he once enjoyed. His chance comes when he’s promised exclusive access to death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the notorious cult leader and mass murderer who’s ready to break his silence after thirty years, and who contacted Lucas personally from his maximum-security cell. With nothing left to lose, Lucas leaves New York to live and work from the scene of the crime: a split-level farmhouse on a gray-sanded beach in Washington State whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners—runaways who were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. There, Lucas sets out to capture the real story of the departed faithful. Except that he’s not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.
Deep in the heart of Appalachia stands a crooked farmhouse miles from any road. The Morrows keep to themselves, and it’s served them well so far. When girls go missing off the side of the highway, the cops don’t knock on their door. Which is a good thing, seeing as to what’s buried in the Morrows’ backyard.
But nineteen-year-old Michael Morrow isn’t like the rest of his family. He doesn’t take pleasure in the screams that echo through the trees. Michael pines for normalcy, and he’s sure that someday he’ll see the world beyond West Virginia. When he meets Alice, a pretty girl working at a record shop in the small nearby town of Dahlia, he’s immediately smitten. For a moment, he nearly forgets about the monster he’s become. But his brother, Rebel, is all too eager to remind Michael of his place…
Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.
That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen...the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.
I CALL UPON THEE: A Novella by Ania Ahlborn (August 7, 2017) // Find it on Amazon
Maggie Olsen had a pretty ordinary childhood—swimming and sleepovers, movie nights and dad jokes. And then there were the other things…the darker things…the shadow that followed her home from the cemetery and settled into the corners of her home, refusing to let her grow up in peace.
Now, after three years away from the place she's convinced she inadvertently haunted, and after yet another family tragedy strikes, Maggie is forced to return to the sweltering heat of a Savannah summer to come to terms with her past. All along, she's been telling herself, it was just in your head, and she nearly convinces herself that she'd imagined it all. But the moment Maggie steps into the foyer of her family home, she knows. The darkness is still here. And it's been waiting for Maggie's return….