Columns > Published on November 9th, 2020

7 Books for Fans of Subtle Horror

I am the oldest of three sisters. We are all avid readers and we inherited our love of books from our mother. I would say the whole family has an affinity for horror, but some of us like the intense scares (me) and some of us prefer a more subtle approach. My middle sister's birthday is November 7th, so this list of "Quiet Horror" is dedicated to her. Some of these books she has read and recommended to me, some I have seen lingering on her shelves, one she gifted to my daughter and the rest are books I think she would like. I thought it would be appropriate to publish the list since I know there are countless readers out there with eclectic tastes in horror fiction, and there is something for everyone in this versatile, diverse genre.

1. "Vampires in the Lemon Grove" by Karen Russell

This is a book my sister has recommended to me. Karen Russell's short story collection combines light, whimsical overtones with offbeat, emotional horror. Readers will find magic in the tragically mundane. Married life between two vampires, a sleepy beach town, a barn full of horses—there is nothing dull or lackluster about Russell's storytelling. If you enjoy character-driven tales with attention to world-building and details, these eight stories are your jam.

Get Vampires in the Lemon Grove at Bookshop or Amazon


2. "Her Body and Other Parties" by Carmen Maria Machado

This is the book my sister gifted to my daughter. A collection of short fiction with a heavy emphasis on "the realities of women's lives and the violence visited upon their bodies." The cover, with its twisting green ribbon, takes its inspiration from one of the more popular stories, "The Husband Stitch." Machado reimagines the classic story of the haunting woman with the green ribbon tied around her neck and infuses it with social commentary. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy female-centric, literary, eerie, and compelling stories. 

Get Her Body and Other Parties at Bookshop or Amazon


3. "Salt Slow" by Julia Armfield

This has been recommended to me over and over again on #bookstagram by readers I trust. Based on the previously mentioned books, this one would be a sure bet for my sister. Another female-centric collection of short fiction. These stories teeter on the brink of horror with strong creepy vibes and body horror. Just like Vampires in the Lemon Grove, the writing style is witty, lyrical and offbeat. I'm buying this one for my sister's birthday! (It also sits on my bookshelf.)

Get Salt Slow at Bookshop or Amazon


4. "The Grip of It" by Jac Jemc

One of my favorite haunted house stories, author Jac Jemc builds psychological suspense like a thriller, leaves all the doors open like a mystery, and develops the characters like Gothic horror. I think my sister would love the domestic drama of this newly married couple told from multiple POVs. Also: Who doesn't love it when the house is actually like a third character? 

Get The Grip of It at Bookshop or Amazon


5. "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" by Iain Reid

I'm actually annoyed that my sister hasn't read this book yet! So I bought this for her too. If you watched the Netflix original movie, I would caution readers not to assume the movie accurately captured the reading experience. It didn't. At all. I loved my journey with the unnamed female protagonist as she navigated her way through her relationship with Jake. This book is unusual, complicated and thought-provoking. Should be a hit with my sister. 

Get I'm Thinking of Ending Things at Bookshop or Amazon


6. "The Visitors" by Catherine Burns

I think this would be a fun buddy read. I own this book and haven't read it yet. Marion is a middle-aged, unmarried timid person. She lives with her overbearing brother in a dilapidated estate in a small, sleepy beach town. He spends his days in the basement as Marion struggles to think the best about his secret activities. This sounds like a disquieting, creepy story with themes of social isolation and family secrets, which we both love!

Get The Visitors at Bookshop or Amazon


7. "The Wildling Sisters" by Eve Chase

I chose this one because, sisters! But also this has a strong coming-of-age theme with Gothic undertones and family secrets. Female coming-of-age novels are pretty rare, especially if you're looking for something eerie and dreadful. First-person narratives with multiple POVs set in a moody, old house sounds like the perfect book to settle into for the dark, winter months. 

Get The Wilding Sisters at Bookshop or Amazon

I think this is a fine list for the kind of reader who likes complicated, intricately plotted storylines with characters they can invest in. There are collections of short stories for times when they just have a moment to themselves during the day and want to read something they can start and finish in the same sitting, and there are novels for after the kids go to bed and the house is still. I know this list will satisfy my sister's tastes, and the hope is there is something here for readers just like her. Happy Birthday, Cee!

About the author

Sadie Hartmann, “Mother Horror” reviews horror fiction for Cemetery Dance Online and Scream Magazine. She is a co-owner of a curated, horror fiction book subscription company called Night Worms. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, kids and Frenchie.

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