February is Women in Horror Month. Officially. But unofficially, genre buffs read horror fiction all year. It’s not even something to consider or be super intentional about, but of course the focused, extra attention women get during WiHM is important.
Eventually, the Women in Horror Month movement will take off in a more expansive direction allowing people to promote WiHM whenever and however they desire. But for now, it’s important to join together and amplify women who write horror loudly and proudly with a unified voice this month.
The Bone Weaver’s Orchard by Sarah Read
Fans of child protagonists and dark academia will love immersing themselves in the story of Charley Winslow at The Old Cross School for Boys. This story is wildly imaginative, compelling, and dangerous for emotional readers.
The Hunger by Alma Katsu
A historical fiction horror novel that takes readers back in time to the real events of the Donner Party. Instead of just struggling through a harsh winter landscape, starvation, illness, and animal predators, Katsu introduces another challenge: an unseen evil hunting them across the Midwest. The drama among the travelers is compelling enough on its own but the threats they also face together is just the icing on the cake.
White Pines by Gemma Amor
It’s almost as if Gemma intuitively knows everything that appeals to her fanbase and she made sure to incorporate all of those desirable elements into one novel: Supernatural, cosmic, folk/cult horror, dark fantasy, badass female protagonists, mystery and monsters. This book quite literally “has it all.”
Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due
As an emotional reader that gets overly invested in the lives of the fictional characters I fall in love with, Tananarive Due is an author that I can recklessly indulge in knowing full well that the subject matter of her stories could destroy me, while others will fill me with hope and optimism. I recommend this collection to any reader who enjoys historical fiction horrors, strong female protagonists, and brave, curious children told by a voice with powerful convictions.
Seed by Ania Ahlborn
Quintessential, demonic horror with a gritty, greasy, Southern-gothic atmosphere. Ania builds delicious, unrelenting dread as she pushes the young family in this story closer and closer to the brink of utter ruin. Difficult for readers to bear witness to but even harder for readers to put down.
Beneath by Kristi DeMeester
One of the best cult-horror stories ever as DeMeester sets a snake-handling cult in the woods of Appalachia. A journalist, interested in learning more about the cult, finds herself completely absorbed by the townspeople. Some truly unexpected horrors await you…beneath.
Knock, Knock by S.P. Miskowski
This is the beginning of the Skillute Cycle books set in the fictional town of Skillute, Washington. Some young girls decide to explore the deep woods to find a secret location to perform a ritual. Their inexperience with dark magic means they are in way over their heads and there are lasting consequences. Some of the best female-centric coming-of-age stories I have found.
A Nest of Nightmares by Lisa Tuttle
As far as short story collections go, this is a stunner and sorely underrated. Tuttle explores some dark themes with subtlety and through carefully crafted character development. All of her female protagonists are tried and tested as they venture into bizarre, unusual, and terrifying circumstances.
And Her Smile will Untether the Universe by Gwendolyn Kiste
This is the gold standard for short story collections. All of the stories stand on their own as a singular sensation. Not one falls short or misses the mark. The variety of subjects and range of moods keep readers engaged, unable to put this book down. Bone-chilling horror, sexy intimacy, tragic, heartbreaking loss and grief — this collection will bring you through a mixed bag of delicious emotions.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia-Moreno Garcia
This book is full of surprises. I loved my visit to the Mexican Countryside and High Place. The protagonist Noemí is called upon to check in on her cousin who married into a reclusive, wealthy family who reside in a sprawling estate somewhere in rural Mexico. Noemí is sassy and confrontational which makes for an interesting dynamic between herself and the strange family she encounters at High Place. Gothic deliciousness ensues.
The Worm and His Kings by Hailey Piper
The Worm and His Kings is the perfect selection for new readers. It showcases Piper’s greatest skill: versatility. Piper leads readers on a journey through a landscape of madness where nothing is as it seems. Monique follows a stranger into a subterranean “wormhole” where she encounters an underground cult and a plethora of creatures — including the one she suspects has taken the love of her life, Donna. If this book is any indication of where we’ll find Hailey Piper in 2021, it’s bound to be another year of confirming her as one of indie horror’s brightest stars.
Crossroads by Laurel Hightower
This book is soul-crushing. I want to confess that maybe ninety percent of the time, I was trying to read words blurred by tears. Even though this book is hard on the emotions, the power of its message and the authenticity of the narrative is magnetic. Oftentimes while I was reading, I felt cold and shivery — a real sign of true horror translating through the page and into the reader’s heart. I highly recommend this book to any fan of horror eager to have an interactive reading experience. This one moves you.
True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik
Samantha Kolesnik’s debut hurts like unrelenting thumb pressure on a fresh bruise. An ugly, dark account of severe victimhood informing a young girl’s lasting identity. Readers will endure much tragedy. Watching light and love trying to break through are the big payoffs here. This book put Samantha Kolesnik on my Insta-Buy list.
She Said Destroy by Nadia Bulkin
These stories have teeth! They gnash, shred, and tear readers to bits and pieces and leave you begging for more. A style that straddles the line between bizarro and extreme, Nadia’s storytelling voice is identifiable; instantly recognizable in a sea of clamoring voices. Her brand of horror is sharp, penetrating, and urgent. I love the way she infuses feminism into a creature feature or mixes violence and beauty. Never a dull moment.
The Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee
Book One of a favorite vampire trilogy, Beverley Lee can gladly assume the position of my favorite vampire lore storyteller. That title used to belong to someone else, but after a string of disappointing “bestsellers” in the genre, I looked to indie writers to fill the void. Lee is a master of conjuring mood and atmosphere. Her vampires are sexy and terrifying. This is my go-to recommendation when anyone is looking for vamp-horror done right.
The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H. H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger
Sara walks her readers through a timeline in history — each poem serves a purpose. The poem might be told as though we are a fly on the wall in a room observing events. It might be told through the eyes of a housekeeper who sweeps the floors of the doctor’s room, and wonders what’s under the bed. (There are smells.)
We might get a poem from the perspective of a local pharmacist or perhaps a woman that catches the fancy of a young man with steel-blue eyes and a charming demeanor.
One of my favorite poems was told as Chicago itself, personified, after it had burned to the ground. You can almost hear chains rattling, hems of gowns rustling, and blood-curdling screams in the dark places of Holmes’ Murder House.
Red Station by Kenzie Jennings
No Top 20 in the genre of horror could be complete without some splatter. I must take this opportunity to express how exciting this Splatter Western series can be in the hands of capable writers. I’m sure there is an audience for horror westerns that skimp on story and character in order to give the spotlight to the violence, but for me, I want some meat on my bones. I want something to sink my teeth into and let my heart get fully invested so that when horrible things happen, I feel it hard in my guts. Red Station is just that. A kickass female protagonist and an intricately developed plot. This is the gold standard.
Cry Your Way Home by Damien Angelica Walters
Seventeen stories that come together to form a complete, flawless package. Quite literally one of the best short story collections to satisfy any horror reader’s needs. Damien writes effortlessly in a wide range of genres: speculative, dark fantasy, folklore, scifi, and horror. Most of the stories are from a female perspective addressing themes of motherhood, grief, loss, longing, relationships, and fear.
When Darkness Loves Us by Elizabeth Engstrom
Elizabeth Engstrom must have the most vivid imagination I’ve ever encountered. I am not likely to run across such unique and detailed events anytime soon. There’s something special here. I was completely sucked into the narrative of both stories in a magnetic way. I thought about the stories whenever I was apart from them and while I was immersed in them, my reader’s brain was a flurry of activity. Well-developed, complicated characters, insane tension and an unraveling psychological horror that is completely satisfying in every way.
You by Caroline Kepnes
Is this book considered part of the horror genre? It should be, in the same way Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn), Behind Her Eyes (Sarah Pinborough), and Come Closer (Sara Gran) all walk the same line between thriller and horror. This story is sick, perverted, twisted, and so addicting it should come with a warning label: WARNING: You won’t get anything done until you finish the book. Joe Goldberg is a legend for likable antagonists. Being inside his head is terrifying (and entertaining and sexy and dangerous and…)
Sadie Hartmann a/k/a Mother Horror reviews horror for Cemetery Dance and SCREAM Magazine. She is the co-owner of the horror fiction subscription company, Night Worms. She lives in Tacoma, Washington with her husband of 20+ years where they enjoy perfect weather, street tacos and hanging out with their 3 kids. They have a Frenchie named Owen.