This year has been a torment. I don’t need to list all the reasons why, but my number one reason this month is missing out on all the Halloween festivities. The 31st falls on a Saturday AND lasts for 25 hours thanks to Daylight Savings. Like, we get it. No fun allowed in 2020, please stop driving the point home. Since we can’t cavort with our fellow ghouls and ghosts like nature intended, I’m going to stay home and read like the big, boring, health-conscious person this year has forced me to become. Now, please do not take that statement the wrong way. Reading is my favorite respite from reality and I don’t know where my mental health would be without the comfort of checking out five thousand library books to keep me company. Since parties are off the table for me (and everyone else I surely do hope), I’m going to keep things spooky and within the spirit of America’s Best Holiday (patent pending) by reading my favorite horror novels. Below I listed four of my recent favorites.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2020)
Moreno-Garcia blew us all away last year with the publication of her gorgeous Gods of Jade and Shadow which is an epic fairytale set in 1920s Mexico centered on Mexican mythology. So, I was VERY interested in reading her take on gothic horror. Reader, she did not disappoint. Mexican Gothic will give you big The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman; 1892) and The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson; 1959) vibes, but I am convinced that is only to throw you off the coo-coo bananas reality of what’s going on at High Place mansion. The house is isolated, decrepit, filled with secrets, and unwelcoming in-laws set in their peculiar ways. The horror in this book isn’t just about sinister houses and the ill-intent of hostile in-laws, but the horror beset upon indigenous people in the name of profit. What could be scarier than the subverted will of entire cultures and their certain oblivion? No matter what eldritch horrors await in Mexican Gothic, it’s clear the colonizers are the true monsters here.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying by Grady Hendrix (2020)
Grady Hendrix, how do I love thee? A whole real lot, actually. I first encountered Hendrix last year when I read My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2019). It was funny, scary, and filled with 1980s nostalgia my 40-year-old ass really appreciated, so I was first in line when The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires debuted in June. Set in Charleston, South Carolina (Hendrix’s real-life home town) throughout the 1990s, this book acts as a sort of spiritual sister to My Best Friend’s Exorcism. Hendrix is astonishing in his ability to write genuine, fully-formed women characters as well as some truly terrifying scary bits. What’s that on the roof?! Why is the old neighbor lady eating out of the garbage?! Why did they allow men to join the book club forcing them to discuss The Hunt for Red October instead of true crime like usual?! The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying explores the horror of confronting an undead vampire as well as the real-life horror of crippling gender-role conformity American women still cope with. Hendrix sold the TV rights of Southern Book Club to Amazon, so read it now to be ahead of the curve and therefore much, much cooler than all your friends.
(Concept cover art by Pauline Ailstock)
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004)
Yes, I am aware that 2004 is nowhere near a “recent” horror release, but I needed it to be on the list. This is the book that showed me I do not dislike horror fiction and, in fact, that I quite love it. I am also aware that this is the second vampire-centric book on the list, but I assure you, this one is WAY different than Southern Book Club. Now popularized via two film productions (Let Me In, the subpar 2010 American production and the EXCELLENT 2007 Swedish version, Let the Right One In), the book is often overlooked. Anyone who values quality writing, plot, and characterization needs to get in on this book with a quickness. Not to mention, this is the most interesting exploration of what it would be like to exist as an honest-to-god vampire in the modern world. Be warned, Let the Right One In contains moments of horrendous violence that I can still picture almost word-for-word, now, 15 years after reading it. If you are not faint of heart and you want a real-deal page-turner horror book, Let the Right One In will tick off some boxes. Lindqvist took the book title from THIS Morrisey song, so feel free to listen to one of our problematic faves while you read.
The Monster of Eldenhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht (2019)
This novella hit a lot of sweet spots for me. Revenge? Check. Dour surroundings/mysterious plague? Check. Old-timey? Check. Queer romance? Check, check, CHECK! The story centers mostly around Johann, our ostensible titular Monster and narrator. He doesn’t know who he is or where he came from. The only thing he knows for sure is that he is a killer and he loves to kill. Johann’s existence seems out of focus and out of time itself until he meets dapper and foppish Herr Leikenbloom, who takes him in as an, uh, “errand boy” for lack of a better word. Maybe “murder boy” would be more accurate. I found the growing relationship between Johann and Herr Leikenbloom to be compelling even as they committed atrocity after atrocity in the name of revenge. The Monster of Elendhaven was hands-down one of the best books I read in 2019 and I can’t wait to see what Giesbrecht comes up with next.
Horror fiction isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. I would encourage people who are on the fence about engaging with the above titles to leave them off your reading list for now. If you’re just getting into horror as a genre, be gentle to yourself and check out the excellent October 9th blog post by Bree HERE. Mead staff is always happy to help find reading material suited to the individual, and that goes for all the genres, not just horror fiction. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 920-459-3400 option 4 for book recommendations. I love to hear what people have been reading, so feel free to tell me all about it! Happy Halloween!