Best Horror Books for Women
What does horror for women actually mean? Is it somehow less scary? Do the monsters sparkle and wear pretty pink bows and talk about their feelings? Hell, no! This list has spine-tingling chills and bone-jarring thrills as well as mystery, romance, and haunting tales that anyone would be afraid to read in the dead of night. There are creepy haunted house stories, vampire novels, and tales of the zombie apocalypse. Demons, and ghosts, and even monsters of the human variety abound in these books, but these stories are also filled with women, just not the type of women who run up the stairs in high heels while the killer is chasing them. The women in these novels kick ass! They stand toe to toe with supernatural forces threatening to destroy their lives like Jessica in Tananarive Due’s My Soul to Keep. They bravely seek out the truth in the face of overwhelming obstacles, even the zombie apocalypse, like George in Mira Grant’s Feed. These women sometimes have magical powers, but more often, they do not. If they do have some sort of super-power, they more often than not consider it a curse. Sometimes, the women in these stories are the monsters, like Anna Korlov in Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake.
This list contains cruel, heartless women, such as Corrinne Dollanganger in Flowers in the Attic, and women who are quite literally demons, like Christabel in Tamara Thorne’s Haunted. The women in these books are wives, mothers, daughters, girlfriends, cemetery restorers, news reporters, bakers, and teachers. They span a wide variety of ages and backgrounds. Some of the books on the list are not about women, but instead are written by some of the most celebrated female authors in the genre. So, if you like a good dose of girl power with your scares, check out these titles.
Joyce Carol Oates pretty much has the scariest imagination ever. She’s won four Bram Stoker Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement award in 1994. The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares earned her the 2011 Bram Stoker Award and was nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award, and it’s easy to see why. The book contains six short stories and the novella, “The Corn Maiden”. “The Corn Maiden” is basically Mean Girls but taken to a deadly level. Jude and her two flunkies kidnap and drug a younger student named Marissa in order to sacrifice in a demented interpretation of a Native American harvest ritual. The bonus points for Jude and the gang is that in the process, they’re framing the teacher Jude hates. We get to see into each character’s motivations throughout the story, including Marissa’s grief-stricken mother, who may be hiding a secret. In addition to “The Corn Maiden”, four of the other stories in the book feature women or girls who either are the ones exacting the “punishments” or are the victims. This isn’t supernatural horror, although there may be tenuous hints at it. This book is about the dark, twisted things that human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another. There is agony in these stories, not only of the victims but often of the villains as well. These are the types of terrors that could happen every day, and that’s what makes them truly chilling.
This story has been held up by women's’ studies courses all over the world as a critique of the repression of the Victorian social construct. The Yellow Wallpaper is told by an unnamed woman who, after the birth of her child, is put on a “rest cure” by her physician husband. During this recuperation period, she is not allowed to work or socialize and is basically kept a prisoner in a nursery with hideous yellow wallpaper. At first, the narrator hates the wallpaper, but as the days and weeks of her captivity progress, she begins to see patterns, and then shapes. The wallpaper starts to move. An inspiration for other books on this list, this book will drag you kicking and screaming into the “rest cure” that is prescribed to the narrator. Wanna talk about horror? Just be glad that you aren’t stuck in Victorian times like this poor lady. At 70 pages, it’s, by far, the shortest book on the list, but that doesn’t mean it packs any less of a punch. The narrator drags you quickly down into her insanity in this diary-style story. I dare you to read this book.
Winner of the 2012 Bram Stoker Award, The Drowning Girl is the story of India Morgan Phelps (Imp, for short) as she tries to tell it. Coming from a long line of women with mental problems, Imp, herself, is being medicated for schizophrenia. She tries to puzzle out her own ghost story. She is haunted by Eva Canning, a girl who looks mysteriously like the woman in a painting titled The Drowining Girl. Eva appears to Imp as both a mermaid and a werewolf on separate occasions, and Imp is not sure if these hauntings are real or the product of her obsessions with the girl. Imp is the ultimate unreliable narrator, and this story is as much about her discovering her own truths as it is about her relationships: her relationship with herself, her relationship with Eva, and her relationship with Abalyn, her transgendered lover. It is, at times, dark and unnerving: perfect for fans of ghost stories and gothic horror. At others, it’s magical, perfect for fans of fairy tales. Imp is flawed, but she’s aware that. She’s whip-smart, but also incredibly vulnerable. As interesting as her relationship with Eva is, her relationship with Abalyn is just as rewarding. Abalyn is in some ways the mirror opposite of Imp. She’s a total geek girl who reviews video games. If you don’t mind a bit of a challenge (Imp’s a little hard to follow sometimes.) , you will love this amazing novel
Shirley Jackson is the queen of spooky horror. She even has an award named after her, and what is more awesome than having a award named after you? The story begins when Dr. John Montague rents Hill House for three months and invites a small group of people to join him to research and document any paranormal activity. In this group are the heir to the house Luke Sanderson, a psychic young woman named Theodora, and Eleanor Vance. It is through Eleanor’s eyes that we see the events at Hill House unfold. When she arrives, she feels for the first time that she fits in. That’s also when the crazy, paranormal stuff starts happening. It’s almost as if the house has been waiting for her. At the heart of the story is Eleanor’s journey from a mousy dreamer to a woman who makes her own, albeit unhinged decisions. Eleanor makes it clear throughout the book that she’s never really belonged anywhere. She forms a close, possibly romantic, attachment to the brassy, confident, possibly psychic Theodora, but at the same time, she is jealous of her. Eleanor is not the most reliable of narrators either. She tells the group little lies about herself that she wishes were true. What kind of lies is she telling the reader? It is that doubt that drives you madly through the pages, wondering if this is all in Eleanor’s head or if Hill House is truly evil.
My Soul to Keep is the Bram Stoker Award nominated first installment of Tananarive Due’s African Immortals series. Fans of Anne Rice’s vampires will find David, or as is wife calls him Mr. Perfect, to be a drool-worthy hero. He’s both dangerous and heroic, tortured and sensual, but it is his love for his wife, Jessica that readers will be most enthralled with. Jessica thought she had the perfect life, a wonderful husband, a beautiful young daughter, and one of her newspaper stories has just landed her a book deal. As Jessica researches elder care for her book, one of the cases mysteriously leads to her husband, David. Then, people close to Jessica start dying violently and David reveals a long-hidden secret. With realistic, believable characters My Soul to Keep chronicles what happens when David lets Jessica in on the most important secret of his life. Jessica is a strong character whose investigative reporting skills set the whole plot in motion. At first, Jessica seems naive, but honestly, it’s pretty hard to believe David’s secret if you come from the rational world where such things don’t exist. Plus, Jessica is plagued with self-doubt. It is her journey, dealing with the truths that her husband has presented her, that make this book such a compelling page-turner.
Carrie is what Mean Girls would have been, had the Lindsey Lohan character been a telekinesis wielding psychopath pushed to the brink of sanity by bullying, and the female high school bullies gotten their fair dues -- in blood. But alas, Cady Heron, did not develop killer psychic powers and the Plastic Girls simply become a little bit less cool.
If you haven't read the book, you don't know Carrie . In the movies, you get a glimpse of her mother's crazy. In the book, it's a full dose. You learn how Carrie grew up, and you know her thoughts and feelings. The moment that she completely snaps, you're rooting for her. Is it terror or triumph you feel as she destroys Chamberlain, ME? You're not sure, and it doesn't end there. Carrie offers up another intriguing yet frightening thought: it could happen to you. Told in articles, court documents, and anecdotes, Carrie not only tells the story of Carrie White's fantastic meltdown but also explores the possibility of the TK-gene, a gene that allows people to develop telekinetic powers. Let's be honest, who wouldn't want to exact fiery revenge on the bullies in their own life? Then again, who wants to be on the receiving end? Stephen King initially didn’t think anyone would like Carrie, but he was definitely surprised when the book sold over four million copies, has two film adaptations, and even a Broadway musical. Carrie is very much a story of girl power in that it’s about a girl who has been bullied throughout her entire life, who finally gets the acceptance that she’s always wanted, only to have it ruined by a mean girl. This is what happens when the bullied girl develops telekinesis.
Moral of the story here? Don't pick on nerdy girls lest they suddenly develop psychic powers and rip out your intestines before PE class.
Bram Stoker Award winner Sarah Langan takes on the the classic haunted house story in Audrey’s Door. Inspired by such time-honored tales as The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby, Audrey’s Door gives us another Stoker award winning, girl-powered tale. Successful architect Audrey Lucas moves into a surprisingly cheap New York apartment following her break-up with her fiance. Built in the forgotten “Chaotic Naturalism” style, the apartment complex, known as the Breviary, is an architect’s dream… if she can ignore the haunted history of the building and the strange occurrences that now seem to threaten her sanity. Audrey is wonderfully complex. Escaping a childhood of abuse and neglect from her bi-polar mother, she suffers from crippling OCD, which the Breviary preys upon. The Breviary, with its host of strange residents, is a character in itself with a rich history told in newspaper snippets throughout the novel. Audrey’s door is a riveting blend of supernatural and psychological as the Breviary hauntings seem to mimic Audrey’s increasing neuroses. Supernatural tales of cults and ghosts blend in with the madness that lurks just at the edge of Audrey’s awareness, and therein lies the beauty of the novel. It begs the question: Is the haunting of the Breviary real or a product of the madness that Audrey has tried so long to hold back? Audrey’s door is a stunning blend of psychological horror and the traditional haunted house story, not unlike The Haunting of Hill House, another tale to which the book pays homage.
Come Closer is a compelling mix of supernatural and psychological horror. Amanda has the perfect life. She is a happy, successful architect who is in love with her husband, Ed. Then, odd things start happening. They start as unexplained noises in her apartment, a memo to her boss replaced with obscene insults, a book on demon possession delivered to her door instead of the book on architecture that she ordered. Amanda is haunted by strange dreams of a seductive woman with dark hair and pointed teeth, a woman whom she remembers as a childhood imaginary friend. Amanda’s perfect life slips out of her control. She turns to the book on demon possession and finds that she fits every description in the book. Naamah, the demon that may or may not posses Amanda, is pretty much an evil badass, but Amanda is so relentlessly normal that you begin to wonder just what exactly is lurking under the surface of the person sitting next to you. As the tension escalates and more and more eerie things start happening, Amanda isn't sure who to trust. She turns to doctors and therapists, but even they seem sinister. Soon, the reader, like Amanda, is seeing demons everywhere. Amanda is a genuinely likable character, and her reactions to her possession are completely understandable... unless she's not actually being possessed. Either way, her unravelling is riveting.
Lisa Morton has won tons of awards for her short-fiction and editing work, including three Stoker awards. This is her first novel, and it’s got an eerie horror that stalks behind you as you read.The Castle is an exclusive artists’ community in Los Angeles and home to the Lofty Repertory Theater Company. When Beth becomes the newest resident and theater director for the company, it’s a dream come true, but as Beth meets her new neighbors, she learns that the building has been used for everything from a dairy plant, to an insane asylum, and even a morgue. History is not enough to scare Beth away, even when she begins to witness strange apparitions in the dark. Beth is amazing in that she’s a very practical and likable character who, at first, doesn’t really buy all the supernatural stuff that’s happening. Beth, herself, is the lead of a cast of great female characters including Jessamyn, the eccentric artist, who lives in the penthouse and who both creeps out and intrigues Beth. There’s a bit of romance, but it’s secondary to the quiet horror that is unfolding around Beth. The tension mounts as she struggles to come up with logical explanations for the bizarre occurrences at the Castle, and the conclusion is satisfying and unexpected.
Warren Slights is like a female version of American Psycho and The Wasp Factory. Stevie is a troubled woman who lost her policeman father when she was 9 years old in a mysterious shooting. After a car crash that kills her mother, Stevie has a near death experience in which she’s in a room with all of the people whom she’s ever slighted in life, and they all want revenge. The room terrifies Stevie, and she is incredibly grateful when she awakens in the hospital. However, the room also intrigues her. Already withdrawn, Stevie becomes increasingly obsessed with the room she saw when she was dying. Slights is a great psychological horror, and Stevie is the perfect unreliable narrator. While Stevie is thoroughly unlikeable, you still find yourself rooting for her. Even as she is committing heinous acts, you feel for her, but also, much of the violence is never really described, making one wonder if any of this is taking place in reality or only in Stevie’s warped mind. Slights is a seriously disturbing trip down Stevie’s unraveling mind. It’s not for the faint of heart, Stevie’s childhood is awash with abuse and neglect of all kinds, and her present is just as bleak, but the payoff is totally worth it. It’s a story that will worm its way into your brain.
The Haunted takes the classic haunted house story and gives it a girl-powered spin and lots of sex. When David Masters purchases the Baudey house, he knows about its history. It was originally a brothel until all of its guests and inhabitants were found in pieces all over the house. Now, anyone who has ever stayed there for a significant amount of time winds up dead, but when David steps inside, he feels a presence. David buys the house and moves in with his teenage daughter Amber. Strange smells permeate the house, jasmine followed by the stench of death, and one night, David encounters Christabel, a ghostly succubus, and Christabel has a plan to get back into the world of the living that puts both David and his daughter in grave danger. This book is chock-full of strong female characters from the succubus/ghost Christabel who quite literally does anyone and anything that she wants to her mother, a brothel owner who went out of her way to help down-trodden women. David’s ex-wife, whom he still has the hots for, is also pretty kick ass and so is his clever landlady. The plot is fast-paced and reads just like the classic horror movies with plenty of thrills along the way.
Jack Finney is a wonderful author, maybe not prolific per-say, but skilled. In his novel The Body Snatchers he endeavors to prove that horror does not need blood, nor does it need demons, or even ancient curses, the only thing horror needs is fear. This story has been retold many times; the 50's serial, book, and movie; the retellings of both in the 70's; and that God-awful 1992 movie. The pure horror of its concept is so universal that the term "body snatcher" is used worldwide. Beware the pods: there are places in your house they might hide.
An epidemic of a specific neurosis: all around you, people are claiming that their closest friends and relatives have been replaced by perfect impostors. They question their sanity. Then they recover. But you start to wonder, for a friend/family member seems a bit odd to you now... not like himself. You try to get help, but the roads out of the city are inexplicably worsening and your phone won't call out of the area. And then it hits you: they have control. Embodying (pun absolutely intended) true sci-fi and encompassing horror in a truly unsettling way The Body Snatchers is the perfect Sci-Fi Horror Story!
Thinner Than Thou is a terrifying glimpse at just how far the quest for bodily perfection can go. In a world where fit and healthy is a new religion, driving all others into underground secrecy, the Reverend Earl proclaims the glory of the “Afterfat” attracting people to pay large sums of money to enter his fitness clubs where he promises that they will emerge as “angels”. Annie Ambercrombie and her friend Kelly have no place in the heaven of “Afterfat”. Kelly is considered obese, and Annie eats less and less trying to maintain the ideal weight, becoming anorexic. Wanting them to be normal, healthy teenagers, both of their parents send them to the Dedicated Sisters, an order of women who use bizarre and torturous methods to get teenagers to both eat and think right. In an age where little girls are starting to think Barbie is becoming fat, the Afterfat may not be too far away. The torturous methods employed by the Dedicated Sisters are chilling, and Kelly and Annie are completely relatable. How many kids are signed up for fat camp by their well-meaning but clueless parents? Marg’s quest to find and rescue her kids is completely compelling. Here is a woman who was caught up in the hype of perfection, only to realize that it was all just hype, who struggles to redeem herself.
The Unseen is a fast-paced ghost story that will keep you guessing until the end, with more than a little romance thrown in. Laurel McDonald is thrilled when she lands a position as a psychology professor for Duke University. Of course, such a prestigious job comes with a caveat. Laurel must publish if she wants to gain tenure at the university. She is drawn to the suppressed findings of the Rhine parapsychology studies conducted at the university in 1965. She is also drawn to Brendan Cody, her charismatic colleague. Together, with a pair of grad students, they attempt to recreate the 1965 studies in an attempt to prove the existence of poltergeists. Soon, strange things start happening. Have the researchers awakened something supernatural? Alexandra Sokoloff was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for her first book The Harrowing, making her yet another female rock star of the horror genre, and this book is super sexy! The characters are all very well drawn and ooze charm, and the pacing is fast. Once this book has you, it doesn’t let go. All throughout, the reader, like the researchers is wondering whether they’ve truly experienced paranormal phenomenon or if something more sinister and more realistic is going on.
A National Book Award winner (1938), Rebecca is right up there with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights for its sheer gothic delight. When Maximillian deWinter brings his young bride home to Manderley, Mrs. Danvers does everything in her power to undermine the young lady's confidence by constantly comparing her to the late Mrs. deWinter, Rebecca, who was supposedly much more worldly and urbane than our narrator. Because of Mrs. Danvers's obsession with Rebecca, Manderley is haunted by its former mistress. What has more girl power than a woman who still has a commanding presence over her home long after she's dead? Rebecca has a strong heroine in the unnamed narrator. Though she is naive and ill-at-ease at Manderley, she bravely tries to fit in and make her mark. There’s plenty of good old-fashioned gothic romance, but at its heart lurks a riveting psychological thriller. Mrs. Danvers’s maniacal fascination with the former Mrs. deWinter and her manipulation of the narrator are chilling. The atmosphere of Manderley is made increasingly more sinister with each twist of the plot. There are no supernatural terrors here, and the only ghosts are memories. The true horror of this book lies in the depths of obsession and jealousy.
The Restorer is the first part of the Graveyard Queen series. It is part paranormal suspense, part cozy mystery, part romance with a chilling Southern gothic feel. Amelia Gray is a celebrated cemetery restorer with a family secret. She sees ghosts, and so can her father. After seeing her first ghost, her father lays down a strict set of rules, number one of which is avoid the dead and anyone connected to them. For the most part, Amelia has been able to follow these rules. Then, she gets a job restoring Oak Grove cemetery. Amanda is intelligent and sweet, and reserved. Her special talent is more like a curse in that it pretty much inhibits her from having a normal social life. How much fun can you have when you have to be on hallowed ground after dark? It’s easy to see why she falls for the dark, brooding, sexy and quite literally haunted Devlin. While this isn't a romance, there are enough hints at romance to make it swoon-worthy, but this is a mystery and a straight-up thriller. The plot twists and turns as Amelia struggles to help find the killer, and there is an ever-present aura of eeriness. This book is not grab-you-by-the-throat scary but instead the prickly, there-is-somebody-behind-me scary that is delicious and satisfying.
If you like your horror with a tinge of supernatural and a lot of mystery, try the Water Witch. When two children disappear from the small Louisiana town of Bayou Crow, Dunny Pollock’s school teacher sister sister begs her to come help, hoping that Dunny’s unique abilities will be able to help locate the children before it’s too late. Dunny’s vowed to keep her powers a secret, hiding them and making a life for herself in West Texas. Dunny has a sixth finger, a digit that allows her to locate missing items, almost like a divining rod. When Dunny arrives in Bayou Crow, she immediately realizes that more is going on than meets the eye. LeBlanc’s characters, particularly the females, are incredibly well-drawn. Dunny is an ordinary woman with extraordinary powers that she uses against some seriously dark forces. Both she and her sister are incredibly brave, heading off into the swamp with only Dunny's special ability to aid them. LeBlanc’s lush language firmly places the reader right there beside them in the Louisiana Bayou. There is a little bit of a budding romance, but it is Dunny’s sister’s crazy mother-in-law, Poochie, who steals the show with her antics and the feeling that she knows far more than she lets on.
This book is riveting, a ghost story, a love story, a thriller, all wrapped up in one incredible package. Along with his herb-witch mother, Cas travels the country looking for ghosts, preparing himself to face the one that killed his father. Case moves to Thunder Bay for one reason: to find and kill the ghost called Anna Dressed in Blood. With Anna, Cas gets more than he bargained for.. She is a tragic figure, and her loneliness is similar to that of Cas, a boy who, by necessity, lives on the fringe of society. The two are drawn to each other, and even though, you know their story cannot end well, you will be surprised.While the relationship between Cas and Anna is appealing, it is the female characters in this novel that give it girl power. Cas’s mother who deftly and with compassion assists with her son’s inherited profession as well as his new love interest. Carmel, who initially appears to be the stereotypical popular girl, proves to have hidden resources, but it the terrifying yet vulnerable Anna who takes center stage. Her story is truly heartbreaking. Anna is, by turns, evil and heartless and sensitive and caring, just like the book.
The Taken is far from your standard ghost story, although, that is where it begins. When Alex goes to visit her cousin Paul, her Aunt Mary suddenly claims that she’s seen Melanie Parr, a young girl who disappeared 30 years earlier. At first, Alex believes that her aunt is suffering from the early stages of dementia, but as the storm rages, other mysterious ghostly children begin to appear in Watterow. It seems that Alex’s family has been keeping secrets, as has almost everyone in the town of Watterrow. Melanie, when she was alive, was a cruel little girl. So, no one was terribly upset when she disappeared. Now that she’s back, she’s awful and vindictive and it seems like no one can stop her. Fans of the creepy kid genre will love taken, but it is Alex who gives this story girl power. Alex is tough and believable and brave as she faces off against the terrifying unknown. The book is filled with chilling atmosphere from the storm, to the ghostly children, to the character of the Catcherman. As Alex discovers the secrets that are hidden in Watterow, the tension ratchets up to a stunning and emotional conclusion that make this book a great read, especially during thunderstorms.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is very much Mary's story about her struggle to escape a world riddled with fear, no matter what the cost. In Mary’s world, zombies roam the forest outside the fence surrounding her small village. Her mother consistently prowls the fence searching for Mary’s father who went missing several years before and tells Mary stories of the world before the Return, a kind of zombie apocalypse. Mary’s brother is a Guardian, enforcing the strict rules imposed by the Sisterhood, and her best friend is betrothed to the boy that she loves. Things only get worse when a stranger, hidden by the Sisterhood turns into a zombie and destroys the village. What gives this book girl power? Well, for starters, a group of women are the ones who make the rules for Mary’s world. Sure, they’re driven by fear, fear of the unknown, fear of a bunch of zombies. That’s why Mary is so interesting. Here is another strong female character who is driven by her desire to explore the outside world, more specifically, to find the ocean. It is Mary’s desire that is the driving force in this book, that convinces her brother and their friends to cross the fence and live each day with their steps dogged by zombies, and that, ladies, is girl power!
Flowers in the Attic is a dark tale about the evils that only family is capable of. The perfect life of the four Dollanganger children is turned upside down after their father dies in a car accident. Corrine Dollanganger takes her children under cover of night to her parents’ home in hopes of getting back into her father’s good graces and being written back into his will. There’s just one slight drawback to the whole inheritance, Corrine was disowned by her religious family. In order to gain acceptance, Corrine convinces the kids to live in the attic until their grandfather dies. A few days turns into three years, and the children are left imprisoned and undernourished in the attic. This novel reads like a soap opera, and it’s filled with strong female characters, from the willful mother, Corrine, to the evil and sadistic grandmother. It is Cathy, however, who outshines them all, and not just by virtue of being one of the only “good” female characters. Cathy takes care of her siblings no matter what. Additionally, at times, she’s seems to be the only character who really understands what’s going on. She’s the only character to call out her grandmother and mother on their cruelty and hypocrisy, and she’s the one who tries to engineer her siblings escape, all while going through puberty trapped in attic with no one but her family.
Robin McKinley’s post-apocalyptic St. Louis where vampires, lycanthropes and demons roam freely is a richly detailed world with well-drawn characters that will leave you wanting more. In a vampire version of the Beauty and the Beast tale, Rae “Sunshine” Seddons gets her nickname from her stepfather and from a set of magical powers that she’d prefer to forget that she had. Sunshine is quite happy working as a baker at her step-father’s coffeehouse and dating Mel, the cook, a former bad boy. At least, she tells herself that she’s happy. One night, after a bout of restlessness, she heads to her grandmother’s old lake cabin. That’s when she’s kidnapped by vampires, dressed in a long red gown, and chained to the wall of an abandoned mansion… right next to another hungry vampire. Even after she’s kidnapped by vampires, Sunshine is never a damsel in distress. She uses her powers to rescue both herself and the vampire with whom she is imprisoned. This is where the book could head down some pretty tired territory with a forbidden vampire romance, and it does in a way. The vampire is strange and otherworldly, completely most of the sexy and brooding vampires out there, but Sunshine is drawn to him and conflicted over it. However, romance plays second fiddle to Sunshine’s growing awareness of herself and her powers.
If you like gothic psychological tales, such as the Turn of the Screw by Henry James, you will love Affinity. It is a novel about the Victorian obsession with spiritualism and so much more. Margaret is stifled by her overbearing mother, the fact that her first love has married her brother, and her looming spinsterhood. A family friend suggests that she begin to visit London’s Millbank prison as a Lady Visitor. It is there that Margaret meets Selina Dawes, a woman who claims to be a spiritual medium but who is locked up for fraud and assault. At first, Margaret is skeptical of Selina’s gifts but feels drawn to her. Then, things start happening that Margaret cannot explain,and Selina knows far more about Margaret than she should. This story is told in two voices: Margaret’s secret diary and Selina’s accounts of their time in prison, Margaret’s prison being the Victorian gender roles that her mother forces on her. Both Margaret and Selina are fascinating women, and their relationship brings both of them out of their depression and makes them come even more alive, but as much as you’re rooting for a happy ending, this is gothic horror that we’re talking about. A dark and oppressive atmosphere of dread hangs over the story as the tension mounts almost unbearably. To reveal any more would be cheating, but Affinity and its characters will haunt you.
With an almost lyrical stream of consciousness, Cipher chronicles what happens when starving artists Nicholas and Nakota find a strange hole to nothing in the abandoned storage room of Nicholas’s apartment. Nakota dubs it “The Funhole”, the original title for this book, and begins experimenting with it. Thirsty for some sort of supernatural phenomenon, she pressures and cajoles Nicholas and several others into joining her. Kathe Koja is another female rockstar of the horror genre. This dark and disturbing novel earned her the 1991 Bram Stoker Award for a First Novel and was nominated for a Phillip K. Dick Award. It’s hard not to feel bad for the struggling poet Nicholas whose already bleak world becomes increasingly nightmarish. On the flip side, Nakota oozes sensuality and charm but is selfish and manipulative and thoroughly unlikeable, and this is before she encounters the hole. As her obsession with the hole grows, she turns into a raging bitch. The hole is the center of the novel and seems to magnify all of the darkness around it, making the book unrelentingly grim, but its what the hole represents to each character that is telling. As much as the plot centers on the hole, this book is also about the draining relationship between Nicholas and Nakota.
Strong characterizations and realism make this Southern gothic horror a must read. Sineater a winner of the 1992 Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in a First Novel. It is the coming-of-age story of Joel Baker, son of Avery Baker, the titular sineater. In rural Virginia, the sineater symbolically consumes the sins of the dead. Because of this, the Bakers are shunned and forced to live in the forest away from their small town of Ellison. After his only friend moves away to Washington DC, Joel begins a friendship with a very unlikely person, the nephew of leader of the town’s religious sect. When violent things start happening in Ellison, some people belive it is a punishment from God for associating with members of the sineater’s family, and as these violent punishments hit closer to home, Joel begins to lose his friends. Elizabeth Massie is a two time Stoker award winning author, including a Stoker award for Sineater. Of course, this makes her one of the female rockstars of the horror genre, but that’s not the only reason to pick up this book. It is, by turns, a mystery and a tale about growing up. The book is as touching, at times, as it is terrifying. At its heart, Sineater is about its characters. The true villains are not some supernatural spectre but the prejudices that people harbor. Carrie White has nothing on Joel Baker who lives in a town of religious nutjobs, each just as bad as Carrie’s mother.