As a horror fan, I’ve come to love certain things more than others when reading. It’s only natural for us readers to lean more toward certain tropes or plot devices the more we read, finding familiarity in the wide variety of things that the genre has to offer like a sort of solace. That isn’t to say that other locations or settings aren’t good – there’s just a sort of comfort to be found in the familiar, especially when we’re diving into some really spooky stories!
The ability to create dark emotions and atmospheres in places that may otherwise be associated with all things good or safe is one of the things I’m always most interested in and intrigued by when reading and choosing books for my TBR pile. I love having that sense of safety of a place being ripped away from me when I’m devouring a story, especially in book format. What does this say about me as a person? Something troubling, no doubt!
I decided to make a list of 5 of my favorite settings that I wish I could read more of, and a couple of book recommendations that fit within each. If I had free reign to have an author write a book in whatever setting I want, where would they go? What are my favorite types of horror books to read? Where am I most scared, but also most comforted?
Here’s what I came up with, and here’s what I’d recommend to anyone who loves the same settings that I do!
I grew up in central Florida and was familiarized with theme parks at a pretty young age, so I have a soft place in my heart for stories that involve amusement parks or rides somehow. I spent a few years even working at them as a teen, so it’s especially fun for me to see a ‘behind-the-scenes’ kind of perspective, and it’s something I’d love to see written more!
Book Recommendations featuring Theme Parks:
Fantasticland by Mike Bockoven
I’ve recommended this one so many times that Bockoven is honestly probably tired of my tags showing up in his notifications! It really nails everything I love about that behind-the-scenes theme park business I mentioned before, and it’s got a little bit of something for everyone. If you’re a fan of Lord of the Flies and haven’t read this one, don’t wait – get it & read it now!
Cirque Berserk by Jessica Guess
I know carnivals aren’t exactly the same thing as theme parks, especially when they’re old and abandoned, but I don’t care! This gore-filled slasher is an amazingly fun read, and I absolutely could not leave it off this list. It’s got a little of everything: a badass woman character, a twist, roller skating, peanut M&Ms, blood-soaked action, and Whitney Houston. What more could a person ask for?
This one is a given for a lot of us horror fans, and it’s beloved within the genre for a reason: it’s both fun and horrifying! Home means safety for a lot of people, and having that safe place taken away in a story can be particularly terrifying. There are some scenes set in haunted houses that haunt me still today, and when I hear creaks or bumps in the night, I imagine all the horrible things just waiting to get me in the comfort of my own home!
Book Recommendations featuring Haunted Houses:
Kill Creek by Scott Thomas
One of the most important parts of a haunted house story for me is usually making the actual house more of a character than a setting (despite it being on a list of my favorite settings, I know, I know!). Getting to know a house and truly making me fear it both play such crucial roles in telling a successful haunted house story, and Scott Thomas absolutely blew me away with this one – it’s scary, it’s haunting, it’s atmospheric. It’ll stay with you!
Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones
This one is a little bit different than your normal ‘haunted house’ story, but I think it’s such a great novella and still aligns with what I want from this specific trope while also surpassing expectations by being completely original. Although this one is short, it’s got such an impact – you’ll know what I mean once you read it! I was devastated after reading it.
When I think of islands, I think of fun in the sun and vacationing on the beach. When that mental image as a story ends up including ghosts, creatures, or bloodshed – I’m even more sold on it, honestly! I love being transported away to a lush island setting only to end up in terrible peril – surely it can’t be just me?!
Book Recommendations featuring Islands:
The Forgotten Island by David Sodergren
This was my first book by Sodergren, although he’s now one of my auto-buy authors. Everything in this book is great from the witty dialogue to the freakish creatures that torment our main characters, and I had so much fun reading that I ended up binging the entire thing in a sitting or two. If you’re inside and wishing you were in a tropical paradise, jump into this one and let it take you away!
Tribesmen by Adam Cesare
This novella goes from zero to a hundred in about three seconds flat, and I loved how much of a thrill ride it was. There’s a bit of a spooky factor with mysterious island secrets, and that creepiness is balanced really well with the kind of action-packed brutality that fans of Cesare’s books have come to know him for. It’s quick, it’s fun, and it doesn’t disappoint! I actually listened to this as an Audiobook, along with his other book, THE CON SEASON, and loved listening to both so much!
Okay, I know this one is kind of similar to number three, but I think the ocean itself deserves a shout as a favorite setting all its own. I’d love more stories about scary mermaids and sirens, bloodshed, haunted ships. IT GETS THE PEOPLE GOING! There was recently a book published about the Titanic called The Deep that you’ve all probably heard about (by Alma Katsu if you haven’t!), and I didn’t include it as one of my two here only because I’m adding it to another list – so stay tuned, and also check that one out if you’re a fan of ocean horror like I am!
Book Recommendations featuring the Ocean:
Ocean Grave by Matt Serafini
One of my more recent reads, Serafini gave me everything I wanted and more with this one. Pirate action? Check. Underwater creatures? Check. The promise of lost treasure? It’s there! I also can’t get over this cover – it’s terrifying!! I’ve read two books by Serafini so far, and both have been so good! I’ll have a full review of this one up soon.
Rolling in the Deep & Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
I recommend these a lot, but it’s for a good reason: they’re excellent! Underwater horror isn’t explored as much as I’d like, especially as it relates to oceanic cryptids. These books are great if you’re into what I call “science-y fiction”, but don’t worry if you’re not a science nerd, ‘cause a lot of it is totally made up! It’s just a lot of fun to read about, you know?
Outer Space & Other Planets
Similar to the reasons I’m scared of the deep ocean, I’m afraid of the vast nothingness of space. I grew up watching Star Trek with my dad and have a deep rooted love of all things sci-fi, but alongside that love is an even deeper fear. This is a setting and subject I think is the most unexplored by horror writers of all on my list ‘cause I just don’t have enough books that I know about or own that fall within the scope of “space horror” – a true shame, considering how scary the subject matter is! There are some alien horror books, I won’t discount that at all – but not as many giving me actual “Captain, our Starship is in trouble!” vibes.
Book Recommendations featuring Space / Planets:
Skinwrappers by Stephen Kozeniewski
I was introduced to this space-y horror-y world through a Night Worms book party, and absolutely loved it. It’s the novella companion to the full length novel, THE HEMATOPHAGES. I was super intrigued by the science fiction element, and had to read the full novel immediately – so I scooped a copy up for my Kindle and plan to read it soon!
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
BEFORE ANYONE @s ME FOR THIS, yes, I did read it and yes, I do know that pretty much the entire story takes place in a cave, and not in space. Don’t think I’m confused, and I’m being pretty loose with this in the ‘space’ category. That said, I’m pretty sure it does take place on one of many inhabited/explorable planets, so it qualifies for this theme – and it’s a damn good book besides, so I absolutely could not leave it off the list, especially considering how underrated sci-fi horror is! I love the suit in this story especially, and the claustrophobia was real with this one! So it deserves its place on my list for sure.
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