20 Must-Read Horror Books You’ve Never Heard Of
Lately, it seems we cannot get enough of horror books. Whether it’s due to the seasonal weather or due to the horror that is 2020, horror books are more popular then ever. I know I’m looking to farther reaches to find under-the-radar horror books I haven’t read yet, and as you make your way through this year’s new releases, you may also be wondering what else you will read after you’ve finished the most popular horror books.
To find new horror books you may not have heard of, I utilized one of my favorite Goodreads stats: sorting by “num ratings” to find the best horror books you’ve never heard of. My self-imposed parameters for this were that the book had to be published prior to 2020 and have less than 250 Goodreads reviews. I also wanted to focus on the horror genre, though some of the following books may overlap into other categories—however, they are primarily horror. Some of the following also may contain many trigger warnings; please take care and research if you need.
The Between by Tananarive Due
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 131
More popular for her novel The Good House (a fav around here!), Tananarive Due has a large backlist of horror books that are wildly underread. When Hilton was just a young boy, he almost drowned, spared by his grandmother, who saved him and lost her own life in the process. Thirty years later, he’s married to the only elected African American judge in the county and she begins to receive racist hate mail. Hilton, suddenly forced to be more protective than ever, begins to have intense nightmares, and soon he can’t distinguish what’s in his dreams and what’s really happening. This is an incredibly timely novel for being written almost 25 years ago.
The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 174
Siblings Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald are ready to escape the whirlwind London life for a more idyllic lifestyle. Cliff End is an inexpensive home, so it seems a no-brainer to them. But the locals whisper about the mysterious house, fearing it to be haunted. As the Fitzgeralds learn more about their home and its past, they begin to realize the locals might have not been so wrong after all.
Pressure by Jeff Strand
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 221
Alex is living an average life, an average father with a wife and daughter. But when someone from his past shows back up, he’s forced to remember what happened when he was a young teen. And when his daughter shows him a knife she has, a knife owned by someone he hasn’t seen in years, he really starts to panic that someone has come back to finish him for good.
Wonderland by Jennifer Hillier
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 206
A cross between horror and thriller, this lesser-known work by Jennifer Hillier (author of Little Secrets) is downright chilling. Wonderland is a magical place during the day, boasting cotton candy galore and fun, sparkly carnival rides. But when a man is found dead in the middle of the amusement park, the park turns from fun to creepy very fast. And when another person goes missing, deputy police chief Vanessa Castro knows she needs to do something—fast.
The Rattled Bones by S. M. Parker
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 205
Rilla Brae finds herself suddenly being haunted after the sudden death of her father, but it’s not his ghost that is following her. A girl on a nearby island off the coast of Maine shifts in and out of view, her song floating over the waves to the shore. When Rilla meets Sam, a university archaeology student working on excavations on the island with the visions of the girl, Rilla can’t tear herself away from the history, unearthing decades of secrets that have long been buried.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? by Seth C. Adams
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 14
* The book follows 14-year-old Reggie, who is trying to cope with the death of his father. The woods behind his house are a comfort to him, and he spends a lot of time in his treehouse, in the quiet of the forest. But one day, a bleeding man stumbles out of the trees. Reggie lets him recover in the treehouse, but as days pass and the man doesn’t leave, the two begin to form an odd friendship, and Reggie learns information about the man that changes his view on everything that has happened.
The Quelling by Barbara Barrow
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 21
If you’re looking for an American Horror Story–style read, this is your pick. Addie and Dorian are sisters, and they’ve always been together. At a young age they were accused of murder and diagnosed with a rare psychiatric condition, which sent them to a locked facility under the care of Dr. Lark. As the girls get closer to adulthood, they dream of a life on their own. But Dr. Lark isn’t ready to let them go, and he gets increasingly desperate to “cure” them with new “treatments” that become increasingly dangerous.
Remains by Andrew Cull
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 109
Lucy Campbell’s son was brutally murdered, and ever since she has isolated herself in a psychiatric hospital, unable to pull herself from the darkest depths of her grief. But when whispers began to tell her that something may let her see her son again, she finds herself watching the house where her son died. And someone is watching her.
Gnarled Hollow by Charlotte Greene
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 48
Emily Murray has received the chance of a lifetime, and as an unemployed English professor, she doesn’t really have another option. She is offered a chance to work and study inside the former estate of an author. But once there, she realizes the house isn’t quite what it seems. It seems to change shape and size, making Emily rethink everything she thought she knew, and as she tries to learn more about the house, the stranger the house becomes. Read this book if you enjoyed Mexican Gothic.
Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 58
You’d think Halloween would be the only scary-time story time, but you’d be wrong. This Christmas-set horror is perfect even after the trick-or-treaters have left. Leah’s husband and son have just died a tragic death. Desperate to escape the pitying looks through the holidays, she hastily purchases a rundown farmhouse to get away from it all. But soon after she moves in, she starts seeing and hearing things that aren’t there—that shouldn’t be there.
Nan-Core by Mahokaru Numata, Translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 28
Originally published in Japan, Nan-Core asks what you would do if you learned everything you thought about your own family was a lie. Ryosuke is visiting his parents’ home after the death of his mother, but when he finds a purse, a lock of hair, and journals that seemingly contain confessions to murder, he has to determine what these items are and who, in fact, his family really is behind their facades.
The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado and Dani
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 118
I chose the first volume of this series, which technically came out in 2020, but since some single issues were 2019 releases, I’m counting it in here, especially since issue #1 only has 25 reviews on Goodreads. Carmen Maria Machado may be more well-known for Her Body and Other Parties and In the Dream House, but this series stands out just as much. Following El and Vee after they wake up in a movie theater with no memory of the past few hours, you’ll learn about the mysterious disease that steals memories and the mystery of the town they live in.
Devil’s Wake by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 118
A series starter about Earth facing a potential apocalypse is all too real: this particular one is started by an infection brought to Earth by an alien species. And the infected are turning into things beyond anything anyone predicted. As winter begins to settle over the Pacific Northwest, Terry and Kendra must fight for their own survival as they struggle to find something worth living for.
Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami, Translated by Michael Volek
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 112
Noriko finally marries and is welcomed into her new family. But the more she learns about her husband’s family, the more she isn’t sure what to believe anymore. This Japanese Gothic horror novel builds suspense slowly, then lets loose all at once as you discover the deep, dark secrets of one family.
The Country Will Bring Us No Peace by Matthieu Simard, Translated by Pablo Strauss
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 51
Simon and Marie are struggling with infertility. Sure it is the stress of their fast-paced city lifestyle, they flee for the countryside, settling in an idyllic village. But the town is also gloomy; it’s been more rundown since the factory shuttered, and it seems with each passing day to get quieter and quieter. It’s almost like people are disappearing.
The Nightmarchers by J. Lincoln Fenn
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 13
Julia has grown up hearing the stories—decades earlier, on a remote island, botanical researcher Irene (Julia’s great-aunt) plunged to her death off a waterfall. Supposedly Irene was convinced the spirits of her family had joined the nightmarchers, becoming ancient ghosts forever tied to the island. But Julia hasn’t really ever taken the family stories seriously. So when her great-aunt, Irene’s sister, pleads for Julia to travel to the island to learn the truth, as a journalist, Julia couldn’t pass it up. The longer Julia is there, the more she realizes Irene may not have been so wrong after all.
Water Ghosts by Shawna Yang Ryan
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 98
This debut novel is a historical ghost story set in the early 1930s. When three Chinese women appear out of the mist in a small farming town in California, the town is plunged into a state of shock and fear. When it is discovered that one of the women is the long-lost wife of a local manager of a gambling parlor, the town is sent into further fervor as it tries to work out where the women came from—and why they are here now.
The Bone Weaver’s Orchard by Sarah Read
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 85
Every time a boy vanishes from the Old Cross School for Boys, they’re declared a “runaway.” But when Charley finds a pool of blood behind a false wall inside the school, he realizes there may be more to these stories. As he digs deeper into the school’s secrets and dark past, he’ll find that not everyone wants these secrets unburied.
Slights by Kaaron Warren
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 115
After a near-death experience in which, on the brink of death, Stevie saw a room with all the people she’s ever slighted, she cannot stop thinking about this room. Why were all those people there, and could she go back? Stevie becomes obsessed with pushing herself to that edge over and over again, almost dying but not quite, so she can unlock the secrets of why the room is there and if she is the only one who can see it.
Honour Thy Father by Lesley Glaister
Number of Goodreads Reviews: 23
Four sisters—Milly, Agatha, Ellen, and Esther—have been in a self-imposed isolation in their decaying house for 60 years. Haunted by their dead father, they fear his evil will escape if they leave. But as the sisters grow older, they begin to realize the others are harboring secrets, and they want to know why.
*Editor’s Note: Are You Afraid of the Dark was initially recommended for a younger audience. We’ve revised this recommendation due to adult themes.