13 Halloween Reads Recommended By Local Bibliophiles

Milwaukee-based authors and book store owners share their favorite horror books to get readers ready for the holiday.

1. Pet Sematary by Stephen King


Photo courtesy of Tea Krulos

How did you first find it?

I had seen kids my age in middle school reading Stephen King books. My parents told me I couldn’t read him, so I went to the school library and got Pet Sematary and sneak read it during study hall. 

Why is it memorable?

I don’t remember the character names or details, but I clearly remember how transfixed and frightened I was with the story. I think a good horror story leaves you with a feeling you don’t forget. 

What kind of readers should check out this book? 

This is such a classic Stephen King story, so if you like movies based on his work or shows inspired by him – “Stranger Things” being a good example, this is a good book to revisit. 

Do you have a runner-up?

I’ve really wanted to read more work by Robert Bloch (who wrote Psycho) and Peter Straub (who co-wrote The Talisman with Stephen King, among many other works). Both of those horror authors spent a formative part of their life in Milwaukee, and I think we should celebrate more works by Milwaukee authors. 

Want to hear more from Tea? He is the author of the books Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real Life Superhero Movement, Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Prepper, American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness and several other works. Visit his website, linked here, to learn more.

2. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


Photo courtesy of Barbara and Valercia Cerda

How did you first find it?

We happened to stumble upon it through BookTok.

Why is it memorable?

When we saw the book, the title and author name called our attention because we are of Mexican heritage – it means a lot to be reflected in literature. It was our first time reading a book in a different genre by a Latina (Mexican-Canadian) author.

What kind of readers should check out this book? 

People who love stories about haunted and creepy mansions. It was a slow burn creepy story, and we really enjoyed all the details.

Do you have a runner-up?

El Vals de Brujas by Belén Martínez Sánchez

Barbara and Valeria Creda are co-owners of La Revo Books, a Latina-owned new and used bookstore for and by Black, Indigenous and People of Color, with a specialization in Latinx literature. They offer libros en Español, Spanglish, Bilingual and other languages.

3. The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones


Photo by Chris Anthony Diaz; Courtesy of Shelly McClone-Carriere and Cris Siqueira

How did you first find it?

The book came out in 2020 and received a number of accolades, winning a Bram Stoker Award and the Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction. It’s such a good read that we started selling it at pop-ups and events, even before Lion’s Tooth had a physical store.

Why is it memorable?

Without giving too much away, The Only Good Indians tells the story of four Blackfoot friends who hunted a herd of elk as teenagers in the elders’ section of the reservation, breaking the law and disrespecting tradition. This mistake will haunt them well into their adult life. 

What kind of readers should check out this book? 

You don’t have to be a fan of horror to enjoy The Only Good Indians. The book is extremely well-written and features masterful character studies. It’s a gem that won’t disappoint anyone who enjoys good literature.

Do you have a runner-up?

If you want more gore in your Halloween reading, Stephen Graham Jones is also the author of a great slasher novel called My Heart is a Chainsaw. We also recommend Vacuum Decay, a horror comic book anthology edited by cartoonist Harry Nordlinger. There are 5 issues so far, featuring stories by some of our favorite indie artists, such as Jasper Jubenvill, Josh Simmons and Corinne Halbert. 

Shelly McClone-Carriere and Cris Siqueira are co-owners of Lion’s Tooth, a bookstore and café in Bay View. Their goal is to provide Milwaukee with a cultural hub and gathering place for both children and adults. 

4. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson


Photo courtesy of Eloise Gómez

How did you first find it?

I was introduced to the writings of Ms. Jackson from her short story called, “The Lottery,” which was a required reading in a high school English class and because I found her writing so vivid and the story so fascinating, I wanted to read another one of her books. This led me to The Haunting of Hill House

Why is it memorable?

By this age I was used to frightening, blood-thirsty creatures lurking in the shadows of streets, forests or inside the homes of its unsuspecting inhabitants. What intrigued me the most about The Haunting of Hill House was that unlike most other ghost stories, there are no appearances of menacing creatures. Yet Jackson keeps hold of a reader’s attention through the cunning and manipulative actions of an unseen evil force directed at those staying in a mansion reported to be haunted. 

What kind of readers should check out this book? 

Shirley Jackson is above all a storyteller and an expert at suspense. She does not need blood and guts scenes to submerge the reader into the realm of unseen evil, which is why I would recommend this book.

Yet ultimately the book equally rests its strength in examining the lives of imperfect people who find themselves exploring boundaries, internal and external, for which there may be no limit.  I urge you to read the final pages at night in a comfortable chair, lowlights and preferably with a candle lit. ¡Que disfrute la novela!

Any other thoughts?

There is a movie with the same title, and I understand that Netflix has created a series based on the novel. Nothing tops the book for suspense, however. 

Eloisa Gómez is the co-author of Somos Latinas: Voices of Wisconsin Latina Activists. The book shares the powerful narratives of 25 activists, documenting the long-standing legacy of Latina activism throughout Wisconsin. 

5. The Green Mile by Stephen King


Photo courtesy of Cetonia Weston-Roy

How did you first find it?

It was on the bookshelf my parents kept at home.

Why is it memorable?

The imagery was so visceral. I remember feeling physically ill reading it. The story pulled me very thoroughly into it. I can’t recall another horror story that did that.

What kind of readers should check out this book? 

Readers who enjoy magical realism inserted into their horror and aren’t squeamish should pick this up.

Do you have a runner-up?

I have enjoyed the fairly new release The Revelator. I also am fond of Bloodchild by Octavia Butler. 

Cetonia Weston-Roy is the owner of Niche Book Bar, a Milwaukee-based bookstore committed to showcasing Black books both new and used, created locally and worldwide! You can shop Niche Book Bar’s online, and keep your eyes open for a brick-and-mortar location opening soon.

6. The Crucible by Arthur Miller


Photo courtesy of Hannah Morrissey

What is your favorite Halloween or horror-related book? 

My favorite horror-related book is actually a play: The Crucible by Arthur Miller. 

How did you first find it?

Having first been introduced to it as assigned reading in high school, I’ve long been enchanted, and perhaps a bit haunted, by this fictionalized retelling of the Salem Witch Trials that chronicles a truly horrifying chapter in human history. Women were burned at the stake. Imprisoned. Carted away from their families. But perhaps the worst of it all was how they had no voice whatsoever, were seen as nothing but barren or over-sexualized objects and could be condemned by hearsay.

Why is it memorable?

I love this play for its deeply flawed characters and the lessons it teaches us, most namely: don’t believe everything you hear. Honestly, I would so appreciate a reimagining of this story with Elizabeth Proctor as the protagonist, to see the transmogrification of her community unfold through her eyes

What kind of readers should check out this book? 

Readers with an interest in witch hunts and classic literature should check out this story!

Hannah Morrissey is the author of the “Black Harbor” suspense series which includes Hello, Transcriber, The Widowmaker, and Dead Ringer.  Her books have gained traction in the local sub-genre of “Midwestern Noir.” Stay in touch with Hannah and pre-order her upcoming book, The Widowmaker here. 

7. Carnivore Diet by Julia Slavin


Photo courtesy of Luke Geddes

How did you first find it?

I first learned of it on the writer Stacey Richter’s blog. I remember she remarked that it was a type of kaleidoscopic, ideas-driven novel that is difficult to get published and critically misunderstood, which piqued my interest. I’m sorry to say that time has borne this out; Carnivore Diet feels to me unjustly forgotten and is virtually out-of-print, and Slavin has not published any books since its release in 2005.

Why is it memorable?

I suppose that as someone whose first-ever favorite movie as a kid was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Carnivore Diet‘s combination of terror and wild comedy is what appeals to me. It definitely evokes more laughter than fright. Its satire of George W. Bush-era politics and the hysteria surrounding the D.C. sniper attacks of 2002 is firmly of its time and yet presages the absurdity and horror of our current age.

What kind of readers should check out this book? 

I think “Carnivore Diet” would appeal to fans of writers like George Saunders, Kelly Link, and Carmen Maria Machado, whose work combines elements of high-minded literary fiction with the absurdist and fantastical.

Do you have a runner-up?

For those looking for somewhat more traditional frights, I recommend Kea Wilson’s We Eat Our Own, which like Carnivore Diet takes inspiration from a real-life horror: in this case, the making of the pseudo-snuff film Cannibal Holocaust.

Luke is the Milwaukee-based author of Heart of Junk, one of NPR Weekend Edition’s Best Books of 2020. Luke just released TV Grime‘s inaugural Halloween issue, a 100+ page review of and reflection on every Halloween-themed television episode he has ever seen 

8. That Time of Year by Marie Ndiaye


Photo courtesy of Jocelyn J Szczepaniak-Gillece

How did you first find it?

I was introduced to it by reading other Marie Ndiaye books and finding myself enchanted by her mystical, strange, and deeply intellectual style. She is a witch of a writer; her words swirl around like herbs in a cauldron, and by the final incantation you’ve inhaled her sour I think of this book as inspired by the great Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Summer People.” That story is similarly filled with creeping dread that builds to heart-stopping terror, but, as in That Time of Year, the scares feel at once existential, cosmic, and local.

 As in “The Summer People,” That Time of Year is about an urban family who stay in the country too long. Rather than returning to their bourgeois lifestyle in Paris, Herman, Rose and their child are still in the small French village where they’ve spent their summer vacation. When the book opens, Rose and the child have disappeared, and Herman is both searching the village for them and finding himself slowly integrated into its bizarre grip. Locals engage him in surreal interactions, haunted faces stare at him through windows, and ghostly apparitions remind him that he may feel isolated, but he’s not completely alone. It’s an absolute nightmare of alienation, foreboding, and the deathly chills that lurk behind polite facades.

What kind of readers should check out this book? 

Fans of Shirley Jackson will love this book, as will anyone who appreciates literary horror. And if you’ve ever wondered what that charming small town is like when the tourist shops board up for the winter, well … That Time of Year will make you loathe to stick around and find out.

Do you have a runner-up?

I have many runners-up, but one is Jean Ray’s Malpertuis. This is an exceptionally odd haunted house tale, where a group of unusual relatives gather in a decaying manse in anticipation of the patriarch’s death and a cut of the inheritance. But all is not as it seems. Supernatural terrors loom in the shadows, death stalks the family, and the nights are dark and full of frights. What I love about Malpertuis is the living, breathing, horrible physicality of the house; it’s as much a character as buildings in more recent novels like House of Leaves or Piranesi. And it has the most gonzo, outrageous twist I can ever remember reading!

Another is Matthew Lewis’ The Monk. This is often cited as one of the very first gothic horror novels written. The Monk concerns Ambrosio, a learned and celebrated monk whose vulgar desires lead him on the road to hell. Over two hundred years later, it still shocks and demonstrates how the experience of living through bloody times in history is often fodder for the most terrifying horror.

Jocelyn is a writer, researcher and an Associate Professor and Director of Film Studies at UW-Milwaukee. You can check out some of Jocelyn’s selected publications online

9. The First Evil by R.L. Stine


Photo courtesy of Zhanna Slor

What is your favorite Halloween or horror-related book? 

I used to love R.L. Stine’s “Fear Street” series when I was growing up. I read every single one I could find when I was in third grade. As I recall, my favorite was the first book of “The Cheerleader” series, for whatever reason. It’s called The First Evil. There’s also a second and a third one that are equally as good, plus some later sequels I think that came out when I was a bit too old for that series.

How did you first find it?

 I’m not sure but I would guess it was the Shorewood Public Library. I spent a lot of time there after school.

Why is it memorable?

I guess I was always into speculative fiction, because my favorite TV series as a teen was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” She was also a cheerleader, so perhaps it planted some seed in my mind. High school and magical demons are just a good mix all around, generally speaking. It’s a fun metaphor.

What kind of readers should check out this book? 

Kids in grade school with very active imaginations! Though maybe 9 was a little too young; if it was my daughter reading those books, I’d suggest waiting till 11-12.

Do you have a runner-up?

I don’t read much horror honestly, but there’s a popular book that came out recently that I enjoyed quite a bit, called Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak. It’s still more on the literary or mystery side of the genre, with a pinch of horror for those who aren’t huge horror fans.

Zhanna is the author of, At the End of the World, Turn Left, a suspenseful mystery taking place in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. The novel was named by Booklist as one of the Top Ten Crime Debuts of 2021.

10. Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon


Photo courtesy of Ashley Valentine

Why is it your favorite? 

This book is an awesome horror story, perfect for middle grade students who are a tad too old for trick-or-treating but still into the thrill of spooky stories and Halloween fright.  The story takes you on a thrilling journey and captivates you as you try to figure out the mystery along with Justin.  

Do you have a runner-up?

Leo: A Ghost Story written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Ashley is the owner of RootedMKE, a boutique bookstore with titles appropriate for the youngest of readers, to young adults. RootedMKE’s curated book selection provides BIPOC youth with a reflection of themselves in the stories they read every day. 


11. The Exorcist by Peter William Blatty


Photo courtesy of Lesley Kagan

Why is it memorable?

As a devoted fan of Halloween – yes, I’m the gal who decorates her yard so creepily you’re tempted to call your neighborhood watch – I’ve been a lover of all that goes bump in the night since I was kid. Ticked-off ghosts, monsters gone amuck, aliens with agendas, you name it, but I got the holy hell scared out of me when I read Peter William Blatty’s The Exorcist. A spirit or a werewolf or a visitor from outer space coming after you is one thing, but waging a battle against a malevolent force that takes up residence in your body and decides your soul is up for grabs? I made the sign of the cross so many times after I finished the story that I developed carpal tunnel syndrome.

Any other impactful stories?

I had a similar visceral reaction to Stephen King’s The Shining. When I was vacationing in Estes Park, Colorado, just a stone’s throw away from the Stanley Hotel – the Overlook in the novel – I couldn’t drive past it without my blood running cold and hearing, “Redrum … redrum … redrum,” so when a friend called and asked me to join her there for lunch, I suddenly developed a craving for a Big Mac.

Lesley is the Milwaukee-born New York Times Best Selling author of Whistling in the Dark, Good Graces and The Mutual Admiration Society. You can keep up with Lesley’s work on her website

12. Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica


Photo courtesy of Jonathan Morales

How did you first find it?

I was introduced to the book by an acquaintance. It sounded interesting and I knew I had to add to my list of books to read. 

Why is it memorable?

It became an immediate favorite because of how it was written. Without giving anything away, it’s scary to think what humanity is capable of doing when desperate. It gave a bit of pandemic vibes, but not as extreme as the book. 

What kind of readers should check out this book? 

Personally, I recommend it to everyone. 

Jonathan is the author of the children’s book Mr. Rooster, which is about a rooster who must find the sun after it mysteriously disappeared. You can purchase the book on Amazon and other retailers. 


13. Milwaukee Noir by Tim Hennessy


Photo courtesy of Liam Callanan

How did you first find it?

Hard to pick just one – it’s a collection of 14 amazing stories by local authors about different spooky corners of the city. My two favorites are “Runoff” by Valerie Laken, which takes place in and around, and terrifyingly, under the Downer Woods, and “There’s a Riot Goin’ On,” by Derrick Harriell, a poet. This was his first story, and he won the mystery genre’s top prize, an Edgar, the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award, given to first-time writers. The story, and Derrick, are incredible.

What kind of readers should check out this book? 

These stories, especially Derrick’s, are for readers who want a socially relevant, 21st-century read that explores all the different aspects of fear.

Do you have a runner-up? 

Well, speaking of Edgars, Derrick’s award is named for Edgar Allan Poe, and anyone who enjoys mysteries needs to have him on their shelves. I like the Library of America edition of his work.

Liam is the author of The Cloud Atlas, All Saints, When In Rome, Paris by the Book, and several other stories. Keep up with Liam’s work by visiting his website.