5 Haunting Books To Read in October

October 20, 2020

You know by now that we love nothing more than a good book list, and we simply couldn’t let October slip past without gathering up some shiver-inducing, heart-pounding seasonal reads.

So what do we look for in a perfect October book? 

Well, for starters, extra points for something gothic. The gothic is a seriously tricky concept to pin down (a truly absurd amount of ink has been spilled trying to define it) but think:

  • Ancestral secrets
  • Dramatic settings, like dark forests, ruined castles, creepy manors, dungeons, and towers
  • A sense of decay
  • Dread glamour 
  • A spooky supernatural threat!

And a bunch of other markers (all of which we’re going to really get into in our upcoming course on GOTHIC FAIRY TALES, which, just saying, you can get a 20% discount code for when you register for our Halloween Extravaganza Haunted!!) But the thing about the gothic is that you know it when you see it. Or read it.

You just feel the gothic in your bones. And while we love the gothic all year round, it’s especially delightful in the fall, when the leaves are turning and the air is getting a little crisp. 

October is also the perfect time for stories about monsters. Preferably supernatural monsters. And extra-preferably, supernatural female monsters. We especially love when a supernatural female monster story critics gender norms and stereotypes – basically, when they question who has power in the world.

So if any of this sounds like your jam, read on for 5 of our favorite October reads. We think you’ll love them as much as we do!

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” – such a fabulous, provocative opening! And it only gets better from there. Rebecca is hands down one of our favorite more modern Gothic novels. The story tells of a (never-named) girl who marries a mysterious windower and must combat the ghost of his former wife, Rebecca (who is still everywhere and yet nowhere in the house where they live.) This novel is seriously hard to put down. Bonus: Netflix just released a new film adaptation of this novel! It’s getting kind of mixed reviews, but we’re totally watching anyway. If you really want a goooood film version though, and you’re in the mood for a classic, it has to be said that you really can’t beat the Hitchcock version. 

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Forced to spend her summer taking care of her grandmother’s old house, the main character of this tale finds a key that unlocks an enormous mystery. Simultaneously the story of the Salem witch trials (with a bit of real magic thrown in) and the modern world of a grad student trying to write her dissertation, this is a fascinating tale full of delightful surprises. We’re particularly fond of the magic of the house (and the dog!) The sequel, The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, came out last year and we’re both looking forward to reading it soon! (And seriously, it heavily features the terrors of grad school, so is it really any wonder we love it/find it scary?)

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

So, apparently we have a thing for books about young women who inherit the magical houses of former (maybe) witches… but we know you ain’t mad. This novel isn’t really all that scary, but it DOES have that perfect, subtle, maybe magic/maybe not feel that can 100% hit the spot sometimes (especially in autumn.) We admit we love the first part of this novel a bit more than the second – the romance plot can get a little cliche – but honestly it’s so good we don’t even really mind. This is the perfect novel to cozy up with on a crisp day with a warm pot of tea. 

Medusa’s Daughters: Magic and Monstrosity from Women Writers of the Fin-De-Siècle edited by Theodora Goss

Everything we said above in the intro? You’ll find it in this phenomenal collection curated by the fabulous Dr. Theodora Goss. Dora wrote her dissertation on the monstrous women of the 19th century – she knows her monsters and she knows her literature. This collection is a gem, full of lesser-known gothic stories and poetry by women written in the fin de siecle, or the period at the end of the 19th century. It’s all spine-tinglingly wonderful, but we especially love the pieces by Charlotte Mew, Vernon Lee, and Virginia Woolf.

The Bone Key by Sarah Monette

We have absolutely no chill about Sarah Monette’s collection The Bone Key. We’re huge fans of Monette’s work in general, but The Bone Key is one of our favorite books of all time. It’s a collection of loosely interconnected short stories, all centered around the protagonist and first person narrator, the brilliant and painfully introverted Kyle Murchison Booth. (As introverts ourselves, we say this with nothing but love and fellow-feeling.) Booth is a reluctant magnet for the supernatural, and his strange, haunting, and terrifying encounters persist when he’s at work as a museum archivist and pretty much everywhere else he ventures. We love this book so much that it’s actually our Carterhaugh book club read for October – so you should definitely sign up at the “Willows” level here and join us on Thursday night to chat about it!

So what are your favorite spooktacular reads? Tell us in the comments!


  1. Muffet Jones

    I’m about to begin Naomi Novik’s new “A Deadly Education” – if you haven’t read “Spinning Silver” and “UpRooted” and you are lovers of fairy tales for grown-ups (and who isn’t?) those are for you. My own personal favorite movie of all time is “The Shining” but Kubric’s movie is better than the book.

  2. Karen Ravenscroft-Wheeler (Tomi Ravenscroft)

    I adore Rebecca! It has to be one of my all-time favourites and is the reason I love all things gothic and moody. I have read it more times than I can count and have memorized great swathes of the text! hahahaha I actually wrote a blog post about it last night. I’m going to compare my responses and understandings of the characters now, as a 56 year old woman, compared to how I felt when I read it the first time at 21.

  3. Lauren E Reynolds

    As someone who is absolutely in love with the gothic in all forms this is a wonderful list of new titles for me to read. You are absolutely right about October being the time of year to enjoy Gothic stories—especially erotic ones. I just finished two gothic romance collections by Mitzi Szereto titles Red Velvet and Absinthe and Darker Edge Of Desire (the later be I enjoyed more) and I am currently enjoying Madeline Roux’s House is Furies now. Everything about it just drips gothic!

  4. Caryn

    My favourite recent Gothic is Silvia Moreno Garcia’s “Mexican Gothic” with our well-dressed 1950s heroine out to help her sister who is trapped in a falling down mansion up in the mountains. It’s unforgettable.

  5. Gayle F Cunningham

    Hail and well met!

    My books so far this month (which is the best month of the year in my wildly skewed opinion) are….uhm …Well, here they are:

    The Forgotten Book
    The Book Jumper
    both are written by Mechthild Glaser (I don’t have an umlaut on my keyboard, but there is one over the “a” in Glaser and these are the first two of her books translated into English (she’s German). If I was forced to categorize them? I could….possibly, if tortured, call them young adult. But I’ll stay with Really Imaginatve and Enjoyable Reads. Daily life, sturm und drang, book jumping and people who are much other than they seem (and they are still people). Two totally different stories (thank the gods) each unique.

    Tam-Lin by Pamela Dean – Remember, not all professors are professors, and time is certainly relative. And upper body strength is a definite plus for any woman. ‘Nuff

    Once Upon a River, by Diane Srtterfield – I could quote the blurb, but I’m going to forbear. You may have to read a bit before you fall completely into the tale. But it’s worth taking the time. Unless Quietly arrives early. Again, this isin’t an overtly spooky and ghostish story, but it’s uncanny…and spooky and ghostly.

    I, of course, have read Rebecca….being, at one point, an avid Daphne Du Maruier reader. I am also a Mary Stewart fan,, but haven’t read Thornyfield. Nor The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. My list has grown by 3 books….YAY!

    But first, the dishes….sigh…

  6. Darcy Sharman

    I just finished The Unsuitable, by Molly Pohlig, and I believe it fits the bill. It definitely needs a content warning for suicide and self-harm, though.

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