Softer Scares: Light Horror Books

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Courtney has been reading and collecting books almost as long as she’s been alive. She holds a B.A. in Theatre and Creative Writing. Courtney has been writing with Book Riot since 2019, and is a Bibliologist with TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations. She’s currently brainstorming for her next creative project. You can follow her on Instagram.

Welcome to the shady corner between the mundane and the unknown. Light horror, a subcategory of horror, delicately balances all the suspense, eeriness, and supernatural expected from horror with subtlety. Light horror gently calls to the reader, inviting them to explore darker themes without the necessity of jump-scare terror and gore. Think of the imaginative gothic settings of films like Edward Scissorhands over slasher flicks like A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Weaving elements of the supernatural and the uncanny with the quietly macabre, light horror is more about creating an environment of quiet unease rather than racketing up the tension and dread.

Without gore and violence, light horror showcases both the dark and light within characters and settings. Using settings like haunted houses, light horror often explores deeply human themes like grief.  Despite the darkness, whether literal or physical, light horror always makes space for hope.

The gas lamps are lit with dancing shadows on the wall, but it’s nice and warm inside. Light horror can be cozy, even relaxing, despite the lingering unsettling feeling. The monsters may have teeth, but at least they’ve brushed.  

Dear reader, get ready to explore a different kind of fear with these light horror books.

Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda

Mixed-race vampire Lydia is hungry and desperate to taste everything the world has to offer. Clinging to the shadows, Lydia is an observer of the humans around her, recreating them in her paintings. As Lydia reconciles with her need for blood and her lonely existence, she meets other artists also seeking their place in the world.

Rouge cover

Rouge by Mona Awad

Dreamy and cerebral, this novel explores fairytale themes using horror tropes. Skincare-obsessed Belle travels home when her mother dies unexpectedly. While settling her mother’s debts, Belle watches a video about a miracle spa. Falling through the looking glass, Belle’s transformation is nearly complete. Keeping gore and jump-scares to a minimum, Rouge is all about the unsettling vibes.

The Memory Police cover

The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder

This quiet, unassuming novel creeps in and haunts beyond the last page. On an unnamed island, an unnamed Writer struggles to complete her latest novel while bits and pieces of the world are slowly disappearing. From birds to tin cans to now useless body parts, anything can disappear from existence and memory.

When the Writer’s editor is threatened by the brutish Memory Police, the Writer takes drastic steps to keep his editor hidden. Beautifully translated, this book begs the question: when everything is taken, what is left?

the cover of The Keeper by Guadalupe Garcia McCall; illustration of a young boy and girl in the woods at night, shining a flashlight

The Keeper by Guadalupe García McCall

For a bit of middle grade horror fun, The Keeper is just the ticket. When James and his family move from Texas to Oregon, things get weird fast. Mysterious letters from someone called “The Keeper” arrive with threats to James and his sister, but no one will believe James, thanks to his pranking past. Determined to keep Ava and himself safe, James searches for the real “Keeper.”

This book is a fun mystery wrapped up in a family story of transition, with just a hint of scariness.

Dark Water Cover

Dark Water by Kōji Suzuki, Translated by Glynne Walley

This translated collection of short stories is themed around water and what lurks beneath the surface. Strange, atmospheric, and emotional, these stories have just enough of a creepiness factor to send a tingle down your spine.

Horrid Cover

Horrid by Katrina Leno

Seeking a fresh start after the death of her father, Jane and her mom Ruth move to Ruth’s neglected childhood home in Maine. As they settle in, the house begins to feel off. Jane is being tormented at school, and Ruth is lost in memories.

Light on scares and gore, Horrid uses the weight of grief and intergenerational trauma to carry this YA horror novel.

Pine by Francine Toon cover

Pine by Francine Toon

In rural Scotland, people go missing, the nearby forest is full of ghosts, and the adults that 10-year-old Lauren has known her whole life are becoming strangers. Lauren and her father, Niall, are out driving when they find a woman on the road. They offer her shelter, but in the morning, she’s gone. The neighbors talk, and Lauren is desperate for a connection to her missing mother. Beautiful, yet claustrophobic and menacing, Pine reaches in and disturbs the quiet.

The Spite House by Johnny Compton book cover

The Spite House by Johnny Compton

Tired of running from his past, Eric takes a job as a caretaker for the Mason House, a supposedly haunted house. For Eric and his two daughters, watching over the Mason’s activity will be light work. As Eric begins to explore the legends of the Mason, he examines his own ghosts that keep him running.

a haunting on the hill book cover

A Haunting on the Hill by Elizabeth Hand

This authorized return to A Haunting of Hill House begins with a struggling playwright and a spark of inspiration. With her newest play funded, Holly gathers a group of actors, including her spitfire girlfriend Nisa, at the crumbling mansion that is Hill House.

Time seems to run differently inside the House, and there is something in the air. Deliciously eerie, A Haunting on the Hill feels quite cozy.

Find your comfort zone with horror with some genre-blending horror to mix things up, or try romance-centric horror for some swooning with your scares. If you’re still not sure if you even like horror, try 20 horror books for people who don’t like horror. Put the kettle on, turn on your nightlight, and happy reading!

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