Written By: Andrea Marks-Joseph
Halloween is my favorite holiday —mostly for the candy, but also for the spooky vibes. If you’re into spells, potions, hereditary magic, or inherited houses –we’ve got the books for you. If you want to read about hauntings, exorcisms, horror novels come to life, and an accidental ghost summoning, you’re in the right place.
Whether you’d like a dose of ghostly magic to read with a pumpkin spice latte by your side, or a thrilling read that has you looking over your shoulder and a little too creeped out to turn the lights out just yet... we’ve got recommendations for you!
This Halloween, why not summon the ghost of your school’s bad boy and fall in love with him? Or perhaps you’d like to move into a house requiring exorcisms and fall in love with the boy it’s haunting? If spooky love is not your thing, we’ve got dystopian climate change fiction about reproductive rights, and a home renovation project that takes a dark turn.
This list is alive with generational magic and inherited hauntings! We have stories set on an island, in the desert, and at a high school ruled by werewolves viciously tearing the patriarchy apart. Happy Halloween to one and all!
1 - Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Young Adult)
Cemetery Boys is the charming, culturally rich, gender affirming tale of Yadriel, a trans Latinx brujo who intended to summon the ghost of his cousin but accidentally summoned the ghost of Julian, his school’s resident bad boy.
The engaging, entertaining story incorporates a murder mystery, unlikely friendships and found family, a paranormal love story, conversations with Lady Death, social commentary and Latinx traditions. Haunting in its beautiful, emotional storytelling, the presence of magic and mystery, and in the very literal sense that Yadriel can’t get rid of the incorporeal Julian, this truly is the perfect Halloween read. I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by the wonderful Avi Roque.
2 - The Offset by Calder Szewczak (Dystopia)
What’s more spooky these days than climate change fiction? The predicament in The Offset is chilling: People are permitted to have children, on condition that when the child turns 18, they select one of their parents to die in sacrifice –to “offset” their birth.
This dystopian book takes the idea that having children right now brings them into a dark and “doomed” reality to disturbing lengths. How would it feel as a parent to raise a child with this fact looming over you? What is it like for the children to have no choice in this matter? I can’t wait to read The Offset, and I know that I won’t stop thinking about this book for ages once I have.
It’s also been announced that this book is being adapted for TV by the producers behind the show War of the Worlds. (Please note, I have seen reviews warning of animal cruelty.)
3 - This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron – (Young Adult Fantasy)
This Poison Heart is rich with Black Girl Magic and mysterious characters showing up to ask about mystical secret gardens. Plants bloom at Briseis’ mere presence, and she’s recently discovered that poisonous plants don’t affect her. When she suddenly inherits an estate from relatives she didn’t know she had, it opens up a world of mystery and an entire eerie town’s secrets.
Briseis repeatedly jokes that she’s worried Get Out is gonna play out in her life since she’s moved to the creepy town with her (adopted) moms, but she doesn’t want to leave. She feels like it’s important for her to learn about her biological family and the magic they’ve passed down to her. Particularly awesome things about this novel: Briseis’ moms are queer, and so is she, and the town’s local police department has been defunded! It’s super cool to see that in action.
4 - Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno (Young Adult, Magical Realism)
Another story about magic passed through generations of women, Summer of Salt uses an island as the setting for events that confront trauma and grief. It’s a highly atmospheric story of superstition and sisterhood. The prose is lyrical, the vibes magical, the overall sense of loveliness inescapable. This story has girls that turn into birds, deadly storms, dark nights of teenage rebellion, sweet queer romances, seaside town traditions, a family history of potions, and a moody, whimsical feel throughout.
Though it’s not evident in the majority of the story as you read it, be aware that the novel deals with sexual assault, PTSD, and includes the death of an animal. Summer of Salt is well worth the read for its brilliant redemptive storyline and the powerful justice it gives women and victims of sexual assault.
5 - Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood (Young Adult Fantasy, Horror)
The protagonist of this story is Andromeda, a 19-year-old exorcist hired to cleanse a house of the horrors it faces every night. It’s set in a violently haunted mansion, with staff that has secrets of their own, and a captivating boy in charge of everything. This is an Ethiopian-inspired Jane Eyre retelling with a Black girl at the heart of a terrifying adventure, and a blossoming romance.
Readers will be in awe of Andi’s resilience, talent and boldness; and entertained by the banter between herself and the haunted boy. There’s a scene where an entire room is filled with blood as the haunts try to drown him, alongside the ever-present looming knowledge that ghosts come alive in the house after ten pm. It’s suspenseful, action-packed, and the characters Andi encounters at the house are all very suspicious. Within These Wicked Walls is a fantastic, thrilling read!
6 - Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Sterle (Graphic novel)
Squad is a graphic novel –which I think is a really exciting way to dive into the creepy, vicious world of Halloween aesthetics– said to be Pretty Little Liars meets Teen Wolf, which truly sounds like perfection, particularly for this time of year.
Becca moves to a new school and is welcomed by a group of girls who turn out to be werewolves. Their prey? Boys who take advantage of girls. Complications arise when Becca allows herself to be turned into a werewolf, the cops start investigating a suspected serial killer, and Becca starts having feelings for one of her new friends.
I especially loved what Chloe Gong, bestseller author of These Violent Delights has to say about it: “A fast-paced and deeply satisfying read. Squad is a story fitted with the sharpest teeth that chomps down on the patriarchy, and I adored it with my entire vicious heart.”
7 - Home Before Dark by Riley Sager (Thriller)
When her father dies, Maggie is surprised to find out that she’s inherited a mansion her family abandoned 25 years ago. Not least because it's supposedly haunted.
Back then, her parents actually fled from the house in the middle of the night, and her father later published a bestselling novel detailing the accounts of its haunting. Maggie was only five when this happened, doesn’t believe anything her father wrote in the book, and decides she’ll renovate the property to sell it. But as soon as she arrives, it becomes clear it won’t be that easy.
Home Before Dark includes both Maggie’s perspective and sections from House of Horrors, the novel her father published. As strange, familiar things come to life, she begins to realize that her father’s book was more fact than fiction. Filled with unnerving, disturbing happenings –and two horror novels for the price of one– I am both terrified and wildly excited to read this one!
Bonus Halloween recommendations from previous lists:
October’s new releases: Not Your Average Hot Guy by Gwenda Bond.
Book-to-TV Adaptations: Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson, and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.
Books to Read by the Fire: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, and Academy Gothic by James Tate Hill.
September new releases: Nice Girls by Catherine Dang, Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty, and Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo.
August’s new releases: A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee, The Turnout by Megan Abbott, and The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith.
July’s new releases: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix.
Andrea Marks-Joseph is a South African freelance writer and book reviewer. She can be found on Twitter @stargirlriots and at stargirlriots.com