This list of creepy historical novels is sponsored by Graydon House Books.

New Oldbury, 1821. In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall. The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline. All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…
It’s October, which means crisp fallen leaves, pumpkin spice everything, and…creepy books, ghost stories, and horror novels galore! There are few things I enjoy more than curling up with a cup of tea, a cozy blanket, and a spooky novel, especially if it’s set in the past. No ghost is quite as creepy as one in an old-timey ghost story, am I right? Here are five must-read creepy historical novels to get you in the mood for Halloween. Just don’t stay up into the wee hours reading—or every creak will start to startle you.

cover of The Ghost Bride by Yangsze ChooTHE GHOST BRIDE BY YANGSZE CHOO
Set in colonial Malaya, Choo’s debut novel is about a traditional ghost marriage, which was performed to satisfy a restless spirit. Li Lan receives an unusual proposal from a rich family: to become the ghost bride of their recently deceased son. She will take a vow of celibacy and move in with his family, where she will be protected—but lonely—for life. As Li Lan is drawn into the Lim family, she is also drawn into the secretive parallel world of the spirits, where she must uncover the truth before it’s too late.

cover of The Terror by Dan SimmonsTHE TERROR BY DAN SIMMONS
Inspired by the doomed 1845 Franklin expedition to the High Arctic, this novel recounts the story of men stranded by sea ice that threatens to crush their ships. As food supplies dwindle and the ice refuses to melt, they realize there is something else out there, an even greater threat than nature, and it is hunting them. With no other options, the surviving crew flee across the ice, accompanied by an Inuit woman they nickname Lady Silence. But how far will they get before their luck runs out? And how long can they survive with winter approaching?

cover of I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem by Maryse CondéI, TITUBA: BLACK WITCH OF SALEM BY MARYSE CONDÉ
Condé’s retelling of the Salem witch trials from the perspective of an enslaved biracial woman is a modern classic. Born on Barbados, Tituba is raised by a spiritual herbalist after her mother is hanged. When she marries an enslaved man, John Indian, they are sold to Samuel Parris—also known as the Puritan minister of Salem, Massachusetts, and a central figure of the witch trials. Tituba is accused of witchcraft and arrested, but that’s just the beginning of her struggle to survive.

cover of See What I Have Done by Sarah SchmidtSEE WHAT I HAVE DONE BY SARAH SCHMIDT
The story of the Lizzie Borden murders in 1892 is one of the most intriguing, and creepy, of all time. In her debut novel, Schmidt retells the story by focusing on the family’s dynamics. When Lizzie discovers her father and stepmother brutally hacked to death with an ax, questions fly: Who did this? Where was Lizzie when it happened, and why can’t she quite remember? Did Lizzie get along with her parents? As the perspective shifts from Lizzie—a truly mesmerizing character—to her sister, her maid, and a mysterious stranger, we get closer and closer to the truth of what happened.

cover of The Woman in Black by Susan HillTHE WOMAN IN BLACK BY SUSAN HILL
Readers of the Victorian era loved a good ghost story, so Hill wisely sets this chilling tale in the 19th century. A young solicitor, Arthur Kipps, arrives at Eel Marsh House after the death of its owner to settle affairs. Although he assumes this will be a routine job, the house’s inaccessible location on a creepy causeway and his repeated sinister sightings—an empty chair that gently rocks, an unseen child who screams—combine to make him realize his life may be in danger. This is an old-fashioned ghost story, a classic Gothic novel as chilling as it is controlled as it builds to a thrilling crescendo. (And it was made into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe!)

If you’re still looking for Halloween reads and scary novels after you make it through this list, check out our list of the best 2018 horror books and our 50 must-read modern horror novels. And if you stay up too late reading ghost stories, get spooked, and need to barricade yourself in bed with a blanket fort…I’ll never tell.

By , October 


Día de Muertos!

Come learn more about this Mexican national holiday!

day of the dead jpeg

21 of the Best Horror Books by Women

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Look at most lists of heavyweight horror authors and you’re bound to notice a trend – they’re mostly men. King, Straub, Campbell, Barker, Ketchum, Hill – all masters of the genre, to be sure. But women authors are writing some of the most innovative and terrifying horror fiction out there, and we’ve decided to highlight a handful of our favorites. Did we leave out your fave? Tell us in the comments!

The cover of the book The HungerThe Hunger
Alma Katsu’s standalone historical horror novel is a treasure. Drawing on werewolf tales, Wendigo folklore, and more, Katsu manages to create a sense of strangling claustrophobia in the doomed wagon train, even as it crosses expansive prairies. The interpersonal dynamics within the wagon party are key here too – power struggles among the travelers, suspicion cast on beautiful, quiet Tamsen Donner, and personal secrets that were meant to be left back east. Add in monstrously hungry creatures lurking just beyond the firelight, and you’ve got an absolutely gripping tale.


The cover of the book The Grip of ItThe Grip of It
A young couple looking for a fresh start leaves their home in the city and buys a house in the country – but before long, strange things start happening. Oh, you’ve heard this one before? Trust me, you really haven’t.

If you loved House of Leaves, do not pass go: proceed immediately to your nearest bookstore and pick up this book. The Grip of It is more formally traditional than House of Leaves (then again, pretty much everything is more formally traditional than House of Leaves), but just as mind-bending and unsettling. It’s also more character-focused, hewing closely to Julie and James, our protagonists, and tinged with body horror, as the eldritch stains on the walls of the house map themselves as bruises onto Julie’s body.


The cover of the book The Good HouseThe Good House
Two years after her son’s death at the family home, Angie returns to face the spirit and the curse that have haunted her family for decades. In the process, she unravels the story of her grandmother, Marie, a Haitian Creole priestess, her Native American grandfather, and the obstacles they faced in their small Washington town. A mixture of possession story, haunted house tale, and Caribbean folklore, this is a wholly original and gripping novel.


The cover of the book Hammers on BoneHammers on Bone
The last decade has seen a host of young authors working to fix the Lovecraft mythos, exploring the most fascinating parts of his work and legacy while excising the racism and anti-Semitism that pervaded his writing. Cassandra Khaw is a standout here – her Persons Non Grata novellas meld noir and cosmic horror in a very appealing way.

Private eye John Persons has been hired by a ten year-old to kill the boy’s abusive stepfather, who, it just so happens, is not entirely human. But that’s fine – neither is Persons. He’s been around a long time, he’s seen a lot of horrifying things, and he’s sure as hell not afraid.


The cover of the book The Haunting of Hill HouseThe Haunting of Hill House
Classics are classics for a reason, and nobody writes quite like Shirley Jackson. The Haunting of Hill House is a masterclass in how to walk the knife’s edge, narratively speaking, between a protagonist’s fractured psyche and actual supernatural happenings. Jackson keeps you just a little bit off-balance on every page (recommended reading: Random House copy chief Ben Dreyer’s analysis of the book’s opening paragraph), and by the end of the book you won’t know up from down.


The cover of the book The MissingThe Missing
Sarah Langan’s work has drawn favorable comparisons to Stephen King, and not just because her first two novels are set in small towns in Maine. In The Missing, an elementary school class on a field trip unwittingly unleashes an airborne plague that transforms the town’s residents into a cruel, hungry hivemind of monsters. Not quite zombies, not quite vampires, Langan puts her own stamp on the contagion horror subgenre.


The cover of the book Broken MonstersBroken Monsters
Lauren Beukes has an incredible gift for writing hallucinatory, heart-pounding horror-thrillers – her previous novel, The Shining Girls, is also a great, gory read – but Broken Monsters is a genre-bending, hypnotic novel about Detroit, a killer who melds the bodies of his victims with the corpses of animals, the dangers of the internet, and everything that’s wrong with spectator culture. Whatever you’re expecting going in, this book isn’t that – it’s better.


The cover of the book The Silent CompanionsThe Silent Companions
Laura Purcell’s novel is an atmospheric slice of Victorian Gothic goodness: Elsie, pregnant and widowed only a few weeks into her marriage, moves to her late husband’s crumbling family estate. But there’s no comfort for her there – just hostile townsfolk, recalcitrant servants, and a painted wooden figure that looks exactly like Elsie, and whose eyes have an unnerving tendency to follow her around the room.

This is what I like to think of as “frog in boiling water” horror – you don’t think it’s all that scary until you’re 100 pages in and a board creaks in the next room and suddenly you’re clinging to the ceiling by your fingernails. Sleep tight.


The cover of the book The Family PlotThe Family Plot
I read a good amount of horror, and somehow I’d never read what I can only describe as a literary jump-scare until I read The Family Plot. Dahlia, who works for her family’s salvage company, takes a team to evaluate and strip a historic estate. From jump, none of the team members feel comfortable in the house, and far less so when they start finding actual bodies buried out back. You’ll feel uneasy in the shower for weeks after you finish this one.


The cover of the book The CipherThe Cipher
Koja won both the Locus Award and the Bram Stoker Award for The Cipher, her debut novel, and in the 25+ years since the book was published, there hasn’t been much else like it. Nicholas and Nakota discover what appears to be a black hole in a storage closet of their grungy apartment building. Things that go into the hole come back out changed, and an attempt to lower a video camera into the hole produces a horrifying video that changes based on who’s watching it. The Cipher is Cronenberg-level body horror with a bleak worldview, a crust of grime and dirt, and an utterly gripping central mystery.


The cover of the book BelovedBeloved
Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. Beloved is also a horror novel.

Wait, what?

I’m not the first person to make this claim, and I certainly don’t want to get too far into the weeds on the Genre vs. Literary Fiction debate (it’s an arbitrary distinction!). But the hallmarks of a ghost story or gothic tale are all there – mysterious hauntings, family trauma, buried secrets, tragic deaths, and discomfiting truths about the human condition. Morrison’s prose is obviously superlative, and she confronts readers with the utter agony endured by survivors of American slavery. It’s an eerie, disorienting, heartbreaking, beautiful book.


The cover of the book BrotherBrother
Seven years ago, Ania Ahlborn self-published Seed, her first novel. Since then, she’s gained a serious head of steam – she has nine books currently in print, and more to come. Brother is a great starting place if you’re new to her work, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. This deeply twisted tale of a family of Appalachian serial killers is gory, depraved, and so much fun.

One more thing – maybe don’t read this one over lunch.


The cover of the book The Yellow Wallpaper and Other WritingsThe Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a proto-feminist landmark and an utterly terrifying story of insanity. The protagonist, confined to her room as part of a “rest cure” for depression, descends into psychosis spurred by the patterns and color of the wallpaper – she believes the pattern is mutating, moving, leaving smudges of yellow on her skin and clothes. As the weeks pass, she becomes convinced that there’s another woman behind the pattern in the wallpaper, crawling on all fours, and sets out to tear down the wallpaper, freeing her. It’s a little bit “The Ring” before “The Ring” existed, and hasn’t lost any of its power to scare since it was published in 1892.


The cover of the book SilkSilk
Caitlín R. Kiernan’s 1998 novel is a skin-crawling examination of trauma populated by a web of messy misfits and outcasts, set against the goth underground of Birmingham, Alabama. The book is full of characters grappling with their own personal darkness, but at the center we have Spyder, whose inner demons decided they were done with the “inner” part. Kiernan writes with a strong, independent voice, and a rare sense of place. By the way, this one’s not for arachnophobes.


The cover of the book DON'T LOOK NOWDON’T LOOK NOW
Daphne du Maurier is perhaps best known for Rebecca, her chilling and oft-adapted novel of psychological manipulation. Slightly less well-known but equally disturbing are du Maurier’s short stories, including “Don’t Look Now,” the inspiration for the movie of the same name. A married couple grieving for their dead daughter begin to see visions haunting them on the streets of Venice. Ominous signs and occult occurrences begin to snowball, and nothing is what it seems – especially the lost child. Other standouts in this collection include “The Birds,” which inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation (he also adapted Rebecca) and “The Breakthrough,” a sci-fi-inflected novelette of a mad scientist trying to distill the essence of life itself. For gothic horror with a paranormal twist, Du Maurier wins every time.


The cover of the book The Bloody ChamberThe Bloody Chamber And Other Stories
Angela Carter’s seminal collection is so much more than a group of fairytale retellings. These tales tell the story of female rage, sexuality, violence, and body horror, and they do it by inverting every trope you expect from folklore. The title story is a standout, a reimagining of Bluebeard where the young wife is saved from her husband’s murderous tendencies by her own mother.


The cover of the book Skin FolkSkin Folk
Nalo Hopkinson isn’t strictly a horror writer, but horror underpins a lot of her work, a melange of fabulism, myth, anticolonialism, and feminism.

Skin Folk and The Bloody Chamber make for a great one-two punch of woman-centric folklore and fairytale reimaginings. The stories here are heavily inflected by Caribbean lore, with a strong tendency to flip the script on what you expect from folk tales. Standouts include “Greedy Choke Puppy,” which draws on the myth of the soucouyant(think witch meets vampire), and “Slow Cold Chick,” about a woman who finds herself unexpectedly raising a cockatrice.


The cover of the book Into The Drowning DeepInto The Drowning Deep
Mira Grant (who you may know in other contexts as Seanan McGuire) is best known for the Newsfeed series (zombies) and the Parasitology trilogy (tapeworms), but here, in an expansion of her 2015 novella Rolling in the Deep, she tackles her most terrifying subject yet: mermaids.

Yes, seriously.

These aren’t your standard seashell-bra-wearing seductive sirens of myth, of course. Grant’s mermaids are creepy and simian (think Fiji mermaid, not Ariel), and tend more towards mimicking human voices to lure victims to their deaths than towards singing. This one’s perfect for anyone who loves “Deep Blue Sea,” the Challenger Deep, and the inherent weird horror of the ocean.


The cover of the book The Graveyard ApartmentThe Graveyard Apartment
Originally published in Japan in 1986, The Graveyard Apartment is finally available in an English translation. A young family moves into an apartment building for a killer price – if only it didn’t have that unsettling cemetery view…

As life in the building gets stranger and more unsettling, the other resident move out, until our protagonists are alone with whatever’s haunting the basement. For the apartment-dwellers among us, this subtly chilling novel packs an extra punch – after all, do you ever really know your neighbors?


The cover of the book SecuritySecurity
Grand Guignol slasher horror at its most fun. A sleek, state-of-the-art hotel is about to open on the California coast – but the employees preparing for opening day aren’t alone, and aren’t long for this world. A significant part of the action is written as if viewed through the in-house security feeds in the hotel, which lends some Big Brother shading to the narrative, plus we’ve got secret tunnels, private elevators, hidden rooms, and a maze-like building. Think “Die Hard” meets “Scream.”


The cover of the book The Woman in BlackThe Woman in Black
A pitch-perfect Victorian ghost story of a wraithlike apparition who haunts a rural English town. All the traditional markers are here: creepy kids, unexplained screams, family secrets, and a horrifying late-in-the-game shock. One of those books that proves that the classic moves still work wonders.

“Sidewalks” Book Discussion

Read and discuss the book before hearing the author!

sidewalks book discussion


There is, as it turns out, a correct way to dive into the pages of a volume. If you’ve ever wondered how to read a book, you’ll want to read this simple guide. Don’t get lost in the ether.

How to Read a Book

This is deceptively difficult. As it turns out, there are millions of books in the world, and, for the time being, us humans must assume we are operating on a limited amount of time in which to read a finite amount of books.

With a fixed amount of time to live, you’ll suddenly feel the crushing and urgent sense of time running out. Then, you’ll remember one day—or will it be night?—the sun will swallow the Earth whole in an amount of time too small to measure and none of this will matter anyway. Cheers.

Pick any damn book, because of Step Two.

Unless you’re ereading, you’ll need to lift the front cover to open the book. It’s much easier to read once you’ve opened the book (except for you, Superman; go on with your x-ray vision).

Let your eyes follow the lilt of the sentences that begin your book. Decide the author’s style is too something—pretentious; wordy; slow; whatever doesn’t work for you, insert it here—and remember that life is short (sidestep the existential crisis this time). Put the book back. Go back to Step Three.

Pick any damn book, because of Step Two.

Nice work, you’re really getting the hang of this.

Let your eyes follow—oh, you’ve got it.

Congratulations on selecting a book to read for real. Find a comfy spot and get settled. Maybe grab a blanket. Books warm your heart, but not your legs.

It’s not your fault the author started of with a description of a feast. Leave your book pages-down on your spot (even though you’re only on page one; you might forget between here and the kitchen) and prepare something delicious for yourself. Sometimes “prepare” just means “take it out of a box.” No shame.

Get comfy. Again. Take a bite of your delicious whatever. Realize it’s too dry to go on eating without something to drink. Sigh, put the book down again, this time with a bookmark because too much time splayed open could damage it (never mind that doing it at all could damage it; we aren’t the book police here), and return to the kitchen for a drink.

Set yourself up for the story of a lifetime.

Open your book as in Step Four, let your eyes follow the lilt of sentences as in Step Five. Go on in this state for as long as you can. Shift your body as needed. Nibble now and then.

Tale as old as time, your hot beverage has gone cold, your cold beverage has gone warm, and your room-temperature beverage has a bug in it or something. Such is the cost of a good book. Handle your drink in whatever way is appropriate (reheat; add ice cubes; dump it down the sink and refill). Resume reading.

Look up, long after you’ve turned the light on, to realize the sky has gone totally dark and your clock is chiming double-digits. Rub your eyes. Flip through the pages and note that you only have a few more to go before the next chapter—probably a better stopping point than mid-sentence.

Discover the chapter ends on a cliff-hanger. Read on.

Well, there are only another hundred pages. No sense in quitting now.

The book ends in one way or another and you have to say farewell to the characters and places therein. It’s a lonely farewell, but a necessary one.

Sleep is for the weak, so they say, but your body doesn’t give a damn. Crawl into bed. Worry, vaguely, that you’ve wasted a few hours of your life on a book and the sun is coming for you in more ways than one.

Realize that each book you read is another life lived, and your singular life is all the richer for it. Wait for the sun.

By , October 

Let’s all (pretend to) go to Paris!

Do you ever find yourself sitting around on a slow Saturday afternoon wondering what it would have been like to visit Paris a century ago? 

Of course you do. Who hasn’t? And normally it’s so hard to find a way to satisfy your curiosity, but not Saturday, October 13 at the Moline Public Library! 

Saturday Afternoon in Paris

How We Got Here: 9 Books on the Science of Culture

Photo by claire jones on Unsplash

If you’re trying to understand why our culture is the way it is, or how we got to be this way, look no further. The nine books below will allow you to take a deep dive into our past, our present, and our potential future to learn more about how our culture developed and evolved, and where we’re headed from here.

The cover of the book The Efficiency ParadoxThe Efficiency Paradox
Edward Tenner
Our culture today can’t get enough of efficiency – it’s everywhere we turn. From algorithms to multitasking, the sharing economy, and life hacks, we are always looking for ways to maximize our productivity in less time, in both our professional and personal lives. But is this the right path for our future? The Efficiency Paradox questions our ingrained assumptions about efficiency and offers us new ways to learn from the random and unexpected.


The cover of the book The Wizard and the ProphetThe Wizard and the Prophet
Charles C. Mann
From the bestselling, award-winning author of 1491 and 1493, The Wizard and the Prophet is a clever portrait of two lesser-known twentieth-century scientists, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, whose opposing views shaped our understanding of the world. In forty years, Earth’s population will reach ten billion. Borlaug and Vogt had different solutions to this problem – Charles C. Mann describes them here, and provides an insightful analysis on how we can continue to thrive on an increasingly crowded Earth.


The cover of the book The Evolution of BeautyThe Evolution of Beauty
Richard O. Prum
Named a best book of the year by The New York Times Book Review, the Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal, The Evolution of Beauty is a stunning re-imagining of Darwin’s theory of Evolution. Yale University ornithologist Richard Prum makes the argument that adaptation by natural selection is not the only factor that plays a role in what we see in nature. Richard makes the case for the theory of sexual selection, stating that it is a driving force behind evolutionary change and the reason we are the way we are today.


The cover of the book The Strange Order of ThingsThe Strange Order of Things
Antonio Damasio
In The Strange Order of Things, Antonio Damasio takes a look at homeostasis – the condition of equilibrium that regulates human physiology – to prove that we descend biologically, psychologically, and even socially from a long lineage that begins with single living cells and other primitive life-forms. The Strange Order of Things gives us a new way of comprehending the world and our place in it.


The cover of the book Enlightenment NowEnlightenment Now
Steven Pinker
This instant New York Times bestseller is a fascinating read that assesses the human condition today. Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, takes a step back from the popular notion that the world is doomed to show that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are actually on the rise. Pinker argues that by using the Enlightenment ideals of reason and science, we can further enhance our culture, and humanity as a whole.


The cover of the book The Culture CodeThe Culture Code
Daniel Coyle
How do you build a great culture? What sustains it? In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle attempts to answer these questions by examining some of the world’s most successful organizations, including the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six, IDEO, and the San Antonio Spurs. Daniel curates a culture-building process by identifying the three key skills that are necessary for cohesion and cooperation. This book is essential for anyone looking to learn the principles of cultural chemistry to create teams of people that can accomplish amazing things together.


The cover of the book 12 Rules for Life12 Rules for Life
Jordan B. Peterson
In this book, renowned psychologist Jordan B. Peterson combines the tested truths of ancient tradition with cutting-edge scientific research to answer the question: What does everyone in the modern world need to know? Jordan discusses discipline, freedom, adventure and responsibility with humor and wit, breaking down the wisdom of the world into 12 practical and profound rules. Readers will experience a transformation of mind and spirit with each turn of the page.


The cover of the book Win BiglyWin Bigly
Scott Adams
Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, takes a look at the persuasion strategies Donald Trump used during the recent election, and reveals how to use these methods in your own life to win against all odds. Win Bigly isn’t about Trump being good or evil, or right or wrong- it’s about the power of persuasion in any setting, especially when the audience responds to emotion, not reason.


The cover of the book Searching for Stars on an Island in MaineSearching for Stars on an Island in Maine
Alan Lightman
Alan Lightman, acclaimed author of Einstein’s Dreams and theoretical physicist, has always seen the world scientifically. He found comfort in the logic and materiality of a universe governed by a small number of disembodied forces and laws. But one summer night, he felt connected to something larger than himself – something that couldn’t be explained. This sparked Alan’s desire to look further into the human desire for truth and meaning, and the role that religion and science play in that quest.