Like many who love the adrenaline-boosting thrill of scary stories, I get excited about October and the surge of horror movies and books that promise a frighteningly good time. True, I enjoy a good ghost story any time of the year, but during Halloween month, I find myself magnetically pulled toward anything shiver inducing.
Haunted houses, ghastly reformatories, cursed steamer trunks, monsters, and La Llorona: these are some of the elements that make up the creeptastic recommendations below.
The Haunting of Alejandra, opens a new window by V. Castro
Alejandra, wife and mother of three, has just moved from Texas to Philadelphia and is struggling with loneliness and thoughts of suicide. In her darkest moments, she is visited by a ghostly, crying woman in a ragged gown. Seeking therapy, Alejandra starts exploring her family’s history, beginning with her birth mother, to whom she has recently connected for the first time. Alternating between Alejandra’s story and flashbacks of her female ancestors, it becomes evident that the crying woman is a demon that has plagued these women for centuries. In this novel based on the Mexican legend of La Llorona, Alejandra must draw on not only her inheritance of trauma and horror, but also of courage and tenacity in her quest to end this haunting forever.
The Reformatory, opens a new window by Tananarive Due
Siblings Gloria and Robbie are left behind after their mother dies from cancer and their activist father is forced to flee town after being accused of raping a white woman. Life in Jim Crow-era Florida, already difficult for their county’s Black residents, is made even more challenging for the kids as their presence reminds white people of their “troublemaker” father. After Robbie kicks a white boy to defend his sister, he is sentenced to six months at the notorious Gracetown School for Boys, rife with cruel wardens and the ghosts of past students. While Gloria works to free her brother, Robbie endures unspeakable horrors that have continued at the school for years. As the barely concealed murderous history of the reformatory emerges, the ghosts that live on the reformatory’s grounds are done waiting for justice.
Never Whistle at Night, opens a new window edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
In this genre-bending collection by award-winning authors, such as Tommy Orange, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Waubgeshig Rice, Indigenous experiences and beliefs are woven into 25 chilling short stories. Supernatural horrors, including hauntings, monsters, and curses, are contrasted with earthly terrors such as privileged white racism taken to the extreme. Powerful storytelling, introduced and contextualized by best selling author Stephen Graham Jones, celebrates Indigenous peoples’ survival and imagination while providing you with an unforgettable reading experience.
Lone Women, opens a new window by Victor LaValle
In LaValle’s chilling, atmospheric Western, Adelaide Henry carries with her a secret curse, along with a mysterious steamer trunk that remains locked at all times, as terrible things happen when it’s opened. Fleeing her home in 1915 California as a result of the curse, Adelaide becomes one of the “lone women” taking advantage of the government’s offer of free land in Montana for anyone who can cultivate it. Dragging her steamer trunk, Adelaide arrives in Montana, unprepared for the rough winter and neighbors that are less than welcoming to a tall Black woman on her own. As Adelaide tries to acclimate, her secrets threaten to overwhelm her and put everyone around her in mortal danger.
The September House, opens a new window by Carissa Orlando
With a blend of dark humor and refreshing spin on the classic haunted house trope, Orlando’s debut is the perfect Halloween read. Determined to remain in the impressive Victorian home she and her husband Hal purchased four years ago, Margaret is willing to withstand the horrors the house unleashes every September. The walls drip with blood, disembodied voices moan, and ghosts appear at every turn. After three years of it, Hal gave up and left. But this September, their adult daughter Katherine shows up after Hal stops returning calls, and she’s convinced something terrible has happened to her father. As Katherine’s search for Hal intensifies, so do the house’s hauntings, which Margaret tries to hide in her desperation to hang on to her dream home.
More frightful fun for all ages can be found at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. Visit librarypoint.org/halloween, opens a new window for more scary stories and some not-so-spooky autumnal events.
Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.