Bela Lugosi, the classic movie actor who famously played the iconic Count Dracula in 1931, once claimed, “It is women who love horror.” And we here at Off the Shelf tend to agree with this sentiment, especially considering some of the most astounding horror novels have been written by scarily talented women. So, celebrate spooky season with some of our favorite examples below and get whisked off to creepy forests, claustrophobic haunted houses, and far beyond. Just be sure to avoid reading after dark.
8 Astounding Horror Novels Written by Women
A series of unsolved crimes and disappearances haunts a small Oregon town and rumors abound of a serial killer on the loose. But twelve-year-old Stevie is determined to find answers—no matter the cost—in this moving and suspenseful horror mystery that explores the tenuous line between reality and the paranormal.
In this dazzling and unputdownable novel, two minor characters from Gothic literature are living as immortals in California during the Summer of Love. Together they search for meaning and agency in a man’s world in this unique novel that brings these undead heroines to vivid life.
For fans of Mexican Gothic, from three-time Bram Stoker Award–winning author Gwendolyn Kiste comes a novel inspired by the untold stories of forgotten women in classic literature—from Lucy Westnera, a victim of Stoker’s Dracula, and Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester’s attic-bound wife in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—as they band together to combat the toxic men bent on destroying their lives, set against the backdrop of the Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury, 1967.
Reluctant Immortals is a historical horror novel that looks at two men of classic literature, Dracula and Mr. Rochester, and the two women who survived them, Bertha and Lucy, who are now undead immortals residing in Los Angeles in 1967 when Dracula and Rochester make a shocking return in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
Combining elements of historical and gothic fiction with a modern perspective, in a tale of love and betrayal and coercion, Reluctant Immortals is the lyrical and harrowing journey of two women from classic literature as they bravely claim their own destiny in a man’s world.
The first in the masterful African Immortals series follows Jessica as she enjoys a loving marriage to David, unaware that he hides a horrifying and deadly secret. Upon its discovery, Jessica’s life—and potentially her afterlife—changes forever in this mystical page-turner that will revolutionize how you view a classic monster.
All towns have a rumored haunted house, but when teenaged friends venture into their local one, something shocking happens that follows them into adulthood. When one later attempts suicide as an adult, it’s up to the other to understand what exactly happened to them all those years ago, in this evocative and spine-tingling exploration of the traumas we carry inside ourselves.
“An enthralling debut by a gifted storyteller!” —Wendy Walker, author of Don’t Look for Me
In this spine-tingling, atmospheric debut for fans of Jennifer McMahon, Simone St. James, and Chris Bohjalian, a woman returns to her hometown after her childhood friend attempts suicide at a local haunted house—the same place where a traumatic incident shattered their lives twenty years ago.
Few in sleepy Sumner’s Mills have stumbled across the Octagon House hidden deep in the woods. Even fewer are brave enough to trespass. A man had killed his wife and two young daughters there, a shocking, gruesome crime that the sleepy upstate New York town tried to bury. One summer night, an emboldened fourteen-year-old Clare and her best friend, Abby, ventured into the Octagon House. Clare came out, but a piece of Abby never did.
Twenty years later, an adult Clare receives word that Abby has attempted suicide at the Octagon House and now lies in a coma. With little to lose and still grieving after a personal tragedy, Clare returns to her roots to uncover the darkness responsible for Abby’s accident.
An eerie page-turner, Beneath the Stairs is about the trauma that follows us from childhood to adulthood and returning to the beginning to reach the end.
After her parents are killed in a car accident, young Diya is alone until relatives from India reach out to her. Anxious for family, she travels to India, but death follows her there. It soon becomes clear that there are dark secrets in her family, ones that have been hidden for centuries. Was her parents’ death an accident? Or is something nightmarish at play?
When a young woman is sent to clear out her late grandmother’s house, she’s overwhelmed by the amount of rubbish left behind. But what’s worse is her step-grandfather’s mysterious journal, filled with ramblings of terrifying beings in the woods. She soon discovers that he wasn’t insane—there really is something in the woods, and now, in this deliciously creepy novel, it’s after her.
Winner of the RUSA Award for Best Horror
When a young woman clears out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina, she finds long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods in this chilling novel that reads like The Blair Witch Project meets The Andy Griffith Show.
When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother's house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?
Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.
Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.
From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher, The Twisted Ones is a gripping, terrifying tale bound to keep you up all night—from both fear and anticipation of what happens next.
A psychological haunted house novel unlike any other, THE GRIP OF IT follows a couple hoping a move will help their troubled marriage. But something is terribly wrong with their new house—from claustrophobic hidden rooms appearing, to stains on the decaying walls moving around—and soon, nothing is what it seems in this sinister descent into dread and terror.
Years after fleeing her segregated Southern hometown, Mira reluctantly returns for her friend’s wedding, which is taking place at a nearby plantation. Though marketed as a beautiful venue, the plantation’s dark history is still alive, and soon the horrors of slavery and Mira’s own past reverberate over the weekend. A disturbing and crucial novel illustrating how we are all haunted by history.
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