From the Shelves: Women in Horror 2021

            We can generally agree that it’s all well and good to provide “best of”, “top”, and “authors you should know” lists whenever we’re trying to draw attention to a particular group of writers. Often, these lists are fairly inclusive and, as time goes on, more names get added and people come more in the know. It doesn’t, however, change the fact that designating a particular time—like a month—doesn’t fix the inherent problem. Often, when I see the overall “best of” lists, especially when it comes to horror, they’re still predominantly male—hence Women in Horror month, and our lists.

            Since I’ve already done a comprehensive list of names, I’d like to pull books off my shelves and provide some recommendations. Some of the books are still on my TBR list (an unfortunate side effect of grad school) but others have either stood the test of time or have become more recent favorites. You’ll find that women cover a wide variety of genres in horror and dark fantasy, and can scare just as well as men.

  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
  • Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. I love the way this book unravels and the climax still sticks in my head to this day with heart-pounding thrills. Great imagery and a lot of YA scares. 
  • Men, Women, & Chainsaws by Carol Clover. This is obviously part of the horror academia canon and I use it in a lot of my studies (including my current project). You have to love how Clover analyzes the male gaze, violence in slasher films, and why these may or may not be problematic (at its time of publication).
  • Look for Me By Moonlight by Mary downing Hahn. This book has mixed reviews, but has always been a favorite of mine because it is perhaps one of the most accurate portrayals of vampires as sexual predators that I’ve seen. I love that it is both tempting and horrifying in equal turns, and the setting and atmosphere keep me coming back time and time again.
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  • Ghost Summer: Stories by Tananrive Due. There are a lot of great stories in this collection, including a few connected cycles. You’ll find no more accurate and better selection than “Carriers”, which details a worldwide pandemic and its after-effects.
  • I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland. I can admire what this poetry collection is going for in having each poem inspired by a final girl in a horror film. Some are more successful than others but they’re all entertaining. They fall somewhere in between the “Insta-poem” form and something with a bit more flourish.
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. This one does consistently make the “best of” horror novels of all time lists (regardless of gender) for a reason. It is a superb novel with great characterization, setting, and tension.
  • The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson. We teach “The Lottery” in our schools, but I’ve yet to explore the full depths of Jackson’s stories and can’t wait.
  • Alligator by Shirley Katz
  • You by Caroline Kepnes. What’s scarier than being stalked? Being in the mind of the stalker.
  • And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe by Gwendolyn Kiste. I love how Kiste blends fairy tale motifs and tropes with some of the more horrific elements. Allusions and imagery create gorgeous stories.
  • Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste. In Kiste’s novella, she combines so many of the “Mary” characters of urban legend into one of her own for a fast-paced, thrilling tale that provides its own scares.
  • Bad Brains by Kathe Koja
  • Monster, She Wrote by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson. I had the great pleasure of meeting these two at StokerCon in 2019 and love how this book promotes women in horror (all year long!). It’s organized well, researched well, and well-written. Plus, it’s gone on to inspire additional publications by authors who had gone out of print so that’s a job well done to Kröger and Anderson.
  • Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. Not only are these comics gorgeously drawn and highly original, but this epic fantasy delivers on some nice scares as well. If horror is defined by its monsters, then this series gives us plenty and they jump right off the page.
  • Witches by Donna Lynch. This is one of the more unique poetry collections I have because it’s also illustrated. The poems are simple yet visceral and the various possible interpretations lend them their strength. It was also wonderful to hear them read aloud.
  • Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. I cannot sing enough praises for this collection, but if you only read a couple stories please read “The Husband Stitch” or “Eight Bites.” Although “Inventory” feels appropriate for our pseudo apocalypse.
  • Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire. This short story cycle follows the ever-popular vanishing hitchhiker mythos and develops it into its own world, history, and story. I like what it does and McGuire’s writing is entertaining and, at times, gruesome to read.
  • Horror Noire by Robin R. Means Coleman. This book is a fairly comprehensive study of what it means to portray Black horror versus Blacks in horror on the screen. It later inspired a successful documentary, but the book has a lot of great information, pictures, and delves into particular areas (such as Black women in cinema) that deserve attention.
  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison. A masterpiece of fiction and of horror.
  • Trick or Treat by Lisa Morton
  • Revenge by Yoko Ogawa. This short story cycle has kind of a fabulist tone in the way it uses a unique perspective to blend stories and force the reader to make connections. Some of the stories, such as “Welcome to the Museum of Torture”, are wonderfully gruesome.
  • White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi. I love how perspective works in this dark tale, because we actually get the POV of a haunted house and it’s entirely unique in its voice. This is also one of the rare books that has a character with pica and it’s used so well.
  • The Family Plot by Cherie Priest. Not only do we love a good haunted house book, but even better when it’s a literal deconstruction of that house. Great atmosphere, nice characterization, and something about it that still somehow feels realistic.
  • The  Auctioneer by Joan Samson. I love small towns and rural horror, what can I say?
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. One of my favorite books of all time, a classic of literature, one of the best monsters, and somehow we’ll never get tired of adaptations. I also own like four copies.
  • A Collection of Nightmares by Christina Sng
  • In the Crocodile Gardens by Saba Syed Razvi. The poems in this collection are so lyrical, gorgeous, and full of sumptuous imagery. And read aloud? Even better.
  • The Devil’s Dreamland by Sara Tantlinger. Poems about serial killers are now part of my aesthetic and I will here no other argument. These poems about H.H. Holmes are fabulous, descriptive, and historical in the best way.
  • Love and Slaughter by Sara Tantlinger
  • The Merciless by Danielle Vega. I had to put the book down because the exorcism got too intense for me. YA takes The Exorcist, Mean Girls, and a touch of Hostel and ratchets up the tension.
  • Brothel by Stephanie M. Wytovich. I really admire not only Wytovich’s work but her output is amazing too. As someone from Nevada, Brothel is obviously special to me because it’s dark and sexy—just like my state. Hearing them read aloud is also great!

I hope, in the future, to add to my collection of works by women in horror: fiction, stories, nonfiction, poetry, comics, and more. And for all the books I have that I haven’t read it…Well, I’ll get there soon enough! I’m glad to be able to read, be scared by, and write among such esteemed women in this genre.

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