I’m back with another list of “top five books to read if you love . . .” This week, we’re looking specifically at horror, and some of its wonderful sub-genres. My friend Vanessa, who is the brains behind PolyPlasticDreams, asked me for a list of horror stories and I was more than happy to put some together for her! She’s the person who introduced me to Junji Ito’s work, and is always asking me to go see scary movies at our local indie theater.
Without further ado, here are five of my favourite horror books that I’ve read over the past year.
Wilder Girls, by Rory Power
First up we have Wilder Girls by Rory Power. This was one of the few books I gave a 5-star rating to last year. It takes place on an isolated island that houses an all-girls boarding school. The setting alone is enough to give you the creeps, but of course, there’s more. The girls are suffering from a mysterious illness referred to as the Tox that is slowly taking over their bodies. If you’re a fan of body horror, you’ll love this book. The descriptions of what happens to their bodies are truly grotesque. The book also gets bonus points for being sapphic. If any of this sounds appealing to you, be sure to pick up a copy.
The Monster of Elendhaven, by Jennifer Giesbrecht
If you’re looking for a shorter story, check out The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht. This novella comes in at just 160 pages, but packs a whole lot of terror. It follows the story of “a thing without name” that wanders around the city killing for pleasure. This monster can’t die, even though it tries to over and over again. This story is truly dark and twisted, and gave me some serious Sweeny Todd vibes. It was also a Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for best horror in 2019, so if that doesn’t convince you it’s worth reading, I’m not sure what will.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire
While this is technically the second book in the Wayward Children series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire can be read as a standalone. Although, once you read it you’re going to want to pick up the rest of the series. This particular book focuses on twin sisters, Jack and Jill, who find themselves transported from their home to the Moors. The Moors present a truly gothic setting: the moon shines blood red, there are monsters everywhere, and the dead don’t necessarily stay dead. Atmosphere aside, the story itself will punch you in the heart, and you’ll find yourself yearning to learn more about the characters and what drives them and their actions.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
There’s no way I could put together a list of horror stories without including a title by Shirley Jackson. If you want something scary but aren’t a fan of monsters or gore, I’d recommend checking out We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It’s more of a psychological thriller that will give you an uneasy feeling, but in a good way, because you’ll also be flipping pages to find out the hell is going on. It follows the story of two sisters, Mary and Constance Blackwood, who live alone in their family’s mansion after their parents and extended family all die. I could open a thesaurus and list every synonym for “haunting” and “eerie” to describe this book, and it still wouldn’t be enough.
Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll
Last but not least, Through the Woods by Emily Carroll is for fans of graphic novels who don’t mind a bit of blood splattered across the pages. This collection has five stories included, and every single one of them will keep you up at night. It’s one thing to read a scary story, but seeing the artwork that goes along with it adds a whole new layer of terror. Emily Carroll’s art style is exceptional, and adds so much depth to her stories. A lot of the pages don’t have any text or dialogue, but the stories are still incredibly powerful and will linger well after finishing them.
If you’re looking for something more specific within the horror genre—paranormal, perhaps?—you can check out the list I made on my top five ghost stories.