I live in the south, where spring and fall last about three weeks each. The minute the temperature drops below 60 degrees, I get that foggy-morning, bonfire-nights, pumpkin-spiced feeling in my soul. That’s when I start looking for atmospheric horror books to keep the spooky mood going, long after the weather’s turned again.
Finding a spooky autumn book to read can be a real challenge. Do you go for dark academia or gothic haunting? Blood-curdling horror or a thriller that will chill you to the bone? A release from a new-to-you author or a book from one of the masters of horror? Any of these can make for great atmospheric books for your fall TBR, but there are only so many reading hours in a day…and those days are getting shorter by the minute.
Obviously, you shouldn’t feel the need to wait until fall rolls around to read the best horror novels of the year. Once autumn arrives, however, I recommend loading down your nightstand with all the spooky horror books you can get your hands on. If you’re having trouble picking out some creepy-cool reads this season, I’ve got 15 must-read atmospheric horror books to jumpstart your fall TBR selection process.
Atmospheric Horror Books
The Croning by Laird Barron
Cosmic horror fans are likely already familiar with Laird Barron’s 2012 debut. If you’re looking to branch out into a new horror sub-genre, however, you can’t go wrong with this one. Barron makes the best possible use of his unreliable narrator: an octogenarian whose memory has been failing him for decades. Donald’s inability to remember ratchets up the tension, as he repeatedly fails to realize just how much danger he’s in, in The Croning.
Goddess of Filth by V. Castro
Do you remember the first time your friends broke out the Ouija board at a slumber party? The Chicana teenagers at the heart of V. Castro’s Goddess of Filth are about to live every sleepover veteran’s worst nightmare. When their séance ends with a flash of candlelight and one teen chanting in an ancient language, her four BFFs must find a way to save their friend from the hell they’ve raised, in this terrifically creepy horror novella.
The Good House by Tananarive Due
Tananarive Due’s 2003 novel blends the classic haunted house story with the small-town horror so many of us love. The Good House centers on Angela, a lawyer who is drawn back to her childhood home to unravel the mystery of two seemingly connected tragedies: the suicides of her mother and son. Something is very, very wrong about the Good House, and as the bodies begin to pile up, Angela realizes that she may be the only one who can save her hometown.
Song for the Unraveling of the World by Brian Evenson
I read fast, but there are few authors whose books I can devour in a single sitting. Brian Evenson is one of them. He’s better known for his short fiction than his novels, so check out his Shirley Jackson Award–winning collection, Song for the Unraveling of the World. The stories here, many of them on the super-short side, are so deeply unsettling that they’ll stick with you for years to come.
Near the Bone by Christina Henry
Things were bad enough when Mattie thought she and William lived alone on the mountain. That was before she found the fox, before she realized that someone — or something — was living in the snow outside. Whatever is out there, it’s drawing attention, and attention is the last thing William wants. She’s had enough on her plate just keeping him placated, but the new faces at the door may provoke more anger than she’s ever seen him show, in Christina Henry’s Near the Bone.
The Grip of It by Jac Jemc
A young couple grow increasingly threatened by their own home in this tightly plotted horror novel from False Bingo author Jac Jemc. Julie and James bought a house in the country to start a new life together, away from his gambling problems. They didn’t see the stains on the walls, the ones that match the bruises on Julie’s body. They didn’t notice the hidden rooms or the disappearing doors. Now they’re left to wonder: are these phenomena real, or are their eyes playing tricks on them?
Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
Once upon a time, there was a bride whose groom died before they could say their wedding vows. In her grief, she buried herself alive. And with each passing year, she convinced another young woman to follow her to an early grave. After a millennium, a group of unsuspecting young partiers have planned a wedding in her domain. They’ve heard all the old stories about how haunted the Heian-era mansion is. Too bad they didn’t heed those warnings.
The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher
Soon after she returns to her Appalachian hometown, Kara finds herself placed in charge of her uncle’s roadside museum when he’s admitted to the hospital. Everything about the place seems normal enough…until Kara discovers a portal while repairing what seems, otherwise, to be a normal hole in the wall. Transported into a strange otherworld inspired by Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows,” Kara and her new friend, Simon, soon find that the malevolence they encounter there has begun to seep into their own plane of existence.
A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
Two students at the prestigious Dalloway School — one an upperclassman whose girlfriend’s death nearly put an end to her boarding-school career, the other a precocious Pulitzer winner researching her next novel — team up to investigate Dalloway’s fraught history with witchcraft and death in this dark academia novel from the author of The Fever King.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Mexican Gothic is Get Out by way of Crimson Peak. Not long after her cousin marries into an English silver-mining family, Mexico City socialite Noemí receives a letter alleging that the young woman’s in-laws have attempted to kill her. She packs her bags and heads for the Doyles’ countryside estate, where she’s drawn into a repulsive family hierarchy that sees her — as a Mexican woman — as a lesser-evolved human. Once you dive into this creepy novel, Noemí’s nightmares may start to shape your own.
White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
Another gothic novel, this time set in an isolated old B&B near Dover’s famous cliffs, Helen Oyeyemi’s White Is for Witching follows the three surviving members of one little family — Luc and his twin teenagers, Miranda and Eliot — as they grapple with the sudden death of Lily, his wife and their mother. Lily’s demise intensifies Miranda’s lifelong compulsion to eat chalk, but that’s only the beginning. The house is changing Miranda, whose ancestors call to her from inside its strange walls.
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
Left widowed and pregnant shockingly early on in her marriage, a young woman travels to her husband’s ancestral home, only to discover that the place is filled with wooden cut-outs painted to look like real people — people she knows — in Laura Purcell’s deeply disturbing 2017 novel, The Silent Companions.
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
As atmospheric horror books go, The Luminous Dead has every ounce of terror baked into its setting. Caitlin Starling’s debut novel is a work of technologically advanced caver-horror that will have you holding your breath through all of its most claustrophobic moments. The air down there is damp, loaded with the fear that caver Gyre may not be alone in the dark. If you like sci-fi horror, you’ll love The Luminous Dead.
The Lost Village by Camilla Sten
What secrets can a ghost town hide? Sixty years ago, the people of Silvertjarn, Sweden vanished without a trace, leaving only a stoned-to-death corpse and a screaming baby behind. Now the descendant of one missing family is going back to Silvertjarn to unravel its mysteries. Alice has brought a crew with her, but what begins as a documentary film soon turns into something distasteful, as the crew begin to suspect they aren’t alone in the Swedish countryside.
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
Dee knows who kidnapped her sister. She doesn’t care that he had an alibi backed by video evidence. She’s so sure he’s responsible that she’s moved in next door to him. But for all Dee’s certainty, Ted hardly remembers a thing about himself, his family, or his past. He doesn’t know why his neighbors torment him or why his teenage daughter has suddenly grown beyond his power to control. It’s hard to say much more about Catriona Ward’s latest without giving anything away. Why not pick up a copy and see what you think happened to Ted?
Looking for more atmospheric horror books? Book Riot’s TBR can help you find more spooky books with all the thrills and chills of your favorite horror novels!