I decided to talk about the ten most recent horror books I’ve read – and what I thought of them, as horror is a very hit-or-miss genre for me. I will include my rating of the book and also a rating of how creepy/spooky/scary/unsettling the book is, with a little specifics about what makes it so. Said rating will vary from 💀 for “mildly spooky” to 💀💀💀 for “scary, really affected me for a while, glad I read it during the day”. (Consider, though, that I don’t read a lot of horror, so what’s really creepy to me might not phase habitual horror readers!)
Other Small Disclaimer:
Yes this went up at 4 AM in my time zone when it was still unfinished, so you might have seen the draft this morning (sorry! I’ve been sick all weekend+monday and forgot that I had a post scheduled.)
The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht
Genre: it stands on the line between dark fantasy and horror.
My rating: ★★★½ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀, it seriously gets dark – it might be that I’m strongly affected by everything involving plagues – but it’s also really short.
This is a novella about horrible immortal men and their even more horrible relationship and goals; villainous gay content is the best content. Also: Monsters! Sorcerers! Plague! The writing is gorgeous and evocative, the atmosphere is thick and everything feels overwhelmingly bleak. After a first half that made me think this one would be a favorite, the second part of the book really disappointed me – it didn’t go far enough and didn’t leave any impact whatsoever if not for how anticlimatic it felt.
House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
Genre: YA Gothic horror
My rating: ★★¾ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀 – mild, with the exception of one very upsetting scene involving a dead animal and worms.
A horror retelling of Twelve Dancing Princesses set on a island seemed like a really interesting premise! And I have to say, the island descriptions and atmosphere were definitely the best part. Everything else… not so much. I don’t love books that backtrack too many times on what’s real and what’s not when it comes to creepy scenes, and I thought the worldbuilding needed to be a lot stronger than it was for the book to actually pull off what it was trying to do. But my main problem was with the characters, as they flat out didn’t have a personality, and the romance/vague love triangle me feel as if I had picked up something published in 2012. While this was a quick read, it didn’t feel worth it overall.
Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé
Genre: YA contemporary-set horror
My rating: ★★½ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀 – more uncomfortably sad than creepy; also involves dead animals.
I just didn’t get what this one was trying to do, which was overall a more unsettling experience than reading the book itself, as it didn’t have that much going for it apart from some very stereotyped horror devices like the creepy little girl who is creepy for literally no reason. The more I think about it, the more I also realize that I also disagree with what this book seemed to be saying in the end (did it mean to? That I can’t say), but I won’t go into it because spoilers. The only thing I actually liked about this one was the creepy wood atmosphere, that was written really well.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
Genre: YA horror with a (failed, imo) sci-fi twist
My rating: ★★★½ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀 – excellent body horror.
A gorgeously-written and atmospheric horror novel following three girls trapped on an island where a mysterious illness is changing everything. It’s a story that shows a deep anxiety towards change and the lack of agency that can come with it; I liked the subtle point it made about how being a girl can be a horror in itself because of the expectations inherently placed on your body, and how that relates to the body horror in here. Unfortunately, the characters were barely sketched and the story ended up trying to talk about another topic it wasn’t able to tackle properly, and that really isn’t the kind of thing you should shove in your story as a plot twist.
Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter
Genre: YA contemporary with horror aspects
My rating: ★★★★ (full review with TWs at the end)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀 – not so much scary as deeply twisted and dealing with difficult themes. I strongly recommend looking up the trigger warnings.
This book is pretty much as weird and dark as current YA can possibly get, and if one isn’t prepared, it’s an ugly surprise. I wasn’t, not fully – I was familiar with the author, but not with what this story is about, and I wouldn’t wish that on others (despite the fact that I did really like this in the end). This is about an abuse survivor dealing with complex trauma while trying to get out of a codependent incestuous relationship and the evil faerie realm. Yes, it’s a lot, and the horror is deeply tied with the main character’s life circumstances. It’s the best that YA psychological horror has to offer, it’s beautifully (if very unusually) written, and has one of my favorite character arcs. Stories about marginalized people (the main character is queer) who are survivors and are allowed to not be the figure of the perfect victim while being allowed by the story to still find healing will always be important to me.
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Genre: Sci-fi horror
My rating: ★★★★¾ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀💀 – ominous and suspenseful; slowly rising tension to a conclusion involving a lot of gore. It has the creepiest scene I’ve ever read in it.
This sits perfectly at the intersection of two of my favorite horror subgenres: sci-fi horror and ocean-based horror. It’s about man-eating mermaids, and it gets just how creepy the ocean can be. Another thing it gets? Marine biologists and natural scientists*. There’s a mermaid necropsy scene! (This is particularly relevant to me because shark necropsy might be one of the things we’ll have to do this year as students, and the characters’ reactions to the idea in that scene are pretty much ours, too. The realism!) As someone who might maybe end up being a queer woman in this branch of science, it was also really nice to see that one of the many PoV characters, arguably the main one, is a queer woman in science – a bisexual marine biologist who ends up in an f/f relationship during the course of the novel. This book gets a lot of things right, and there are few things as relevant as environmental horror questioning our ideas about human relationships with the environment.
*not always; there’s this flavor of “internet environmental activist who doesn’t know what they’re talking about” to some of the ecology aspects of it, but it could have been so much worse
The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé
Genre: YA paranormal horror
My rating: ★★★★★ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀 – amazing, well-thought-out psychological horror
I have talked before about how stories about haunted people are stories about isolation, and I’ve also talked about how a rarely portrayed aspect of being mentally ill is how isolating it is. And this is a book about the consequences of avoidance and isolation due to mental illness told through a paranormal metaphor (a haunting). Since I’ve been in this kind of situation, it was an oddly comforting story, not scary at all; by others (seeing from reviews) it has been described both as “addictive and terrifying” (from a less personal PoV: it is scary) and “boring” (don’t look for fast-paced horror here).
So, this is my favorite horror book, it has an f/f relationship I love, the main character even ends up on antipsychotics and experiences side effects (why do most YA books either act as if medication will destroy your life or medication is a gift with no drawbacks?). If the next book I’m going to talk about is Annihilation, the one turned into a movie, this one could easily be renamed Self-Annihilation: An Attempt with Consequences, and if that sounds interesting to you, you really should try it.
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Genre: New weird
My rating: ★★★★ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀💀 – on the deeply terrifying idea of the unknown. Really upsetting and bitter.
Its length is between a novel’s and a novella’s, which makes the distant narration work really well. Definitely don’t get into this if you’re the person who liked to get explanations or answers, but otherwise, this is a really good book about ecological horror (I don’t know the author’s thought process but I would be surprised if this wasn’t deeply influenced by climate anxiety). Like Wilder Girls, about the inherent horror of unwanted change, but it takes a completely different angle.
The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco
Genre: YA paranormal horror
My rating: ★★★¼ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀½ – pretty much as dark as YA horror goes
A horror book told in the point of view of a vengeful Japanese ghost girl! The first half is set in America and kind of boring/not that creepy, the second half is set in Japan and (by YA standards at least) seriously terrifying. The main character was probably my favorite aspect of this book, and if you want to read about creepy dolls, this is also definitely the book for you.
Persons Non Grata series by Cassandra Khaw
Genre: cosmic horror mashups; the first book is described as “Lovecraftian Noir”, the second as “Lovecraftian Southern Gothic”
My rating: ★★★★½ (first review; second review)
Creepiness rating: 💀 – mostly mild, but watch out for the eye horror and unsettling atmosphere.
These are short novellas playing with a genre I have very little experience with; it probably will carry even more meaning for those who are familiar with Lovecraft’s fiction (and want something that isn’t a racist mess) but I really liked it even with my very limited knowledge. The writing is gorgeous and makes them feel almost like poetry. From monsters hiding inside abusers to eldritch music taking over people, there’s a lot of horrible supernatural in here, and I loved what the stories did with it, especially the way A Song for Quiet ended up being a story about how much a monster grief itself can be, among all the literal monsters.
What are your favorite horror books? Have you read any of these?