Beginner's Guide to Horror: Staff Favorites

By Skokie Staff Advisory Services

Library staff share their favorite horror titles.

  • A Lush and Seething Hell

    2019 by Jacobs, John Hornor

    Art, obsession, and road trips from or to Hell in a pair of beautifully written, deeply disturbing novellas. In "The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky", a poet in a country that resembles Pinochet-era Chile undertakes a translation project and attracts forces even darker than the ruling junta. "My Heart Struck Sorrow" features historians examining the recordings and increasingly unhinged journal entries of a folklorist who scoured the American South for the truest version of a "demonic" song. The result is something like the Coen Brothers by way of Stephen King. Suggested by Andrew.

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  • The Sun Down Motel

    2020 by St. James, Simone

    This was the first book by Simone St. James I read, and the reason I will pick up just about anything she writes. She walks the fine line between horror and thriller and is a great choice for folks who aren't sure if they like or are ready for horror. Suggested by Becca.

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  • The Terror

    2018 by Simmons, Dan

    The harsh reality of Arctic exploration intertwines with mythic and unknowable horror in Dan Simmons's The Terror. Simmons builds the story around the skeleton of facts we know about Franklin's lost expedition, which set out to locate the Northwest Passage and never returned. Hypothermia, cannibalism, being chased through the dark and the ice by an unknown creature--this book has everything (including breakout horror star: scurvy! Ugh.). Suggested by Liz.

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  • The Last House on Needless Street

    2021 by Ward, Catriona

    The author effectively uses red herrings and keeps the reader guessing by incorporating multiple perspectives, one of which is a cat! Suggested by Amber.

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  • The Only Good Indians

    2020 by Jones, Stephen Graham

    Lyrical, super scary, and just plain terrific, this book was my favorite horror novel (and one of my favorite novels overall) that I read in 2020. I couldn't listen to it while cleaning my basement; I kept getting creeped out by the story and kept wondering what was hiding in the dark basement corners. Suggested by Lynnanne.

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  • Smithy

    2021 by Desiree, Amanda

    In the 1970s, a scientific study went off the rails when a chimpanzee named Wordsmith began reacting to things humans couldn't see. Desiree's ingenious pop take on the epistolary novel combines letters, journal entries, lab notes, Unsolved Mysteries transcripts, and Opposing Viewpoints: The Paranormal excerpts. And what ghost story wouldn't be improved by discussion of primate behavior and the nuances of American Sign Language? Suggested by Andrew.

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  • Through the Woods

    2014 by Carroll, Emily

    Through the Woods is a bizarre, creepy collection of dark tales that would make both Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King proud. All the tales in Carroll’s debut graphic novel are fairly standard ghost stories, but her eerie illustrations—popping with bold color on black, glossy pages—masterfully build terrifying tension and a keep-the-lights-on atmosphere. This graphic novel definitely delivers the chills and goosebumps. Suggested by Rummanah.

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  • I'm Thinking of Ending Things

    2016 by Reid, Iain

    Atmosphere is everything is this disturbing tale of a relationship gone horribly wrong. The tension and sense of unease begins immediately and never lets up until the book’s surprising climax. Never has a late-night visit to a Dairy Queen been more sinister. Suggested by Steven.

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  • Plain Bad Heroines

    2020 by Danforth, Emily M.

    The snarky and sarcastic omniscient narrator is just one of many creepy delights as the past and present collide in this unique gothic horror book. You will never look at a wasps' nest the same again. Suggested by Lynnanne.

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  • The Ballad of Black Tom

    2016 by LaValle, Victor D.

    The dedication reads "For H.P. Lovecraft, with all my complicated feelings." While LaValle skillfully inverts Lovecraft's bigoted worldview, no knowledge of his work is necessary to appreciate this grim little tale of a 1920's musician whose grief and rage may be what will let the Great Old Ones back into the human realm. You'll never look at a paintbrush or a straight razor quite the same way. Suggested by Andrew.

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  • Bunny

    2019 by Awad, Mona

    This novel is fully bonkers. Absolutely bananas and truly twisted. It's really hard to describe it without giving some of its best parts away, but it is definitely not on the gruesome spectrum of horror. It was on multiple best of horror lists in 2019 when it came out, so I'm not alone in my love for this bizarre novel. Suggested by Becca.

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  • The Ruins

    2006 by Smith, Scott

    I love The Ruins because it manages to merge eco-horror and slasher movie tropes in a very satisfying way, producing horror that is truly unrelenting. The characters are recognizable: young Americans vacationing in Mexico, who meet up with a few partying Greeks and a German with a missing brother. The gang, hungry for adventure after days of lazing around and drinking, sets off into the jungle to investigate an archeological dig site despite a hundred thousand red flags. I dare you to read this very scary book about a very scary plant! Suggested by Liz.

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  • Ring Shout, or, Hunting Ku Kluxes in the End Times

    2020 by Clark, P. Djèlí

    I've never been one for horror, but this book changed my mind. With a perfect blend of history, fantasy, and creepy supernatural elements, Clark's harrowing twist to an already harrowing part of history has lingered in my mind long after finishing the book. It's also very short and quick-paced for those who like to finish books in one or two sittings. Suggested by Elise.

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  • The Devil Aspect

    2019 by Russell, Craig

    Craig Russell stuffs his debut novel, set in a Czechoslovakian insane asylum in 1935, with enough material for several books: Nazi sympathizers, a serial killer on the loose, and six imprisoned murderers with gruesome stories to tell (one involving an evil clown!). Add a demonic entity from folklore that seems to be driving all this violent mayhem and you get a tour-de-force of historical horror. Suggested by Steven.

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  • A Head Full of Ghosts

    2015 by Tremblay, Paul

    Creepy in all the right ways, this book is full of suspense, tension, and strong characterization. There are nods to both The Exorcist and The Haunting of Hill House, but Paul Tremblay manages to create something that's completely its own thing. Stephen King was scared while reading this book and there's a good chance that you'll be scared, too! Suggested by Paul.

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  • The Girl from the Well

    2014 by Chupeco, Rin

    I am not a horror reader. I don't seek out horror books unless it is to get in the mood for Halloween. Despite my reluctance, I was thoroughly enthralled with The Girl from the Well. The book is exceptionally written and draws from a classic Japanese ghost story while wielding a unique story of its own. Though the book gave me goose bumps, I still find myself thinking about it long after I finished it. Suggested by Rummanah.

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  • Blood Crime

    2016 by Alzamora, Sebastià

    The dark shades of John Webster, Matthew Lewis, Mary Shelley, and Bram Stoker haunt this gothic thriller in which a vampire is not the worst monster to stalk the streets of Barcelona during the cruel days of the Spanish Civil War. This novel reads like the best movie Guillermo del Toro has never filmed. Suggested by Steven.

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  • Come Closer

    2003 by Gran, Sara

    This is the story of a contemporary woman’s gradual realization that she is being possessed by a demon. Or is she just suffering from mental illness? Sara Gran brilliantly updates the tantalizing uncertainty of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw for the modern day in an unnerving novel both spare and powerful. Suggested by Steven.

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