The best haunted house books where setting is a character

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by haunted houses and the lore behind them ever since childhood. I spent my summers walking our neighborhood cemetery and devouring novels by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Shirley Jackson. It was only natural, then, that my debut novel had to be a haunted house story—my own love letter to the genre. Having lived in a haunted house myself, the experiences I had within those walls did little to discourage my fascination with the paranormal. While I may have left my ghosts behind me, you can still sense their lingering presence inside Parting the Veil.

I wrote...

Parting the Veil

By Paulette Kennedy,

Book cover of Parting the Veil

What is my book about?

When Eliza Sullivan inherits an estate from a recently deceased aunt, she leaves behind a grievous and guilt-ridden past in New Orleans for rural England and a fresh start. Eliza arrives at her new home and finds herself falling for the mysterious lord of Havenwood, Malcolm Winfield. Despite the sinister rumors that surround him, Eliza is drawn to his melancholy charm and his crumbling, once-beautiful mansion. With enough love, she thinks, both man and manor could be repaired.

Not long into their marriage, Eliza fears that she should have listened to the locals. There’s something terribly wrong at Havenwood Manor. And Malcolm’s threatening moods, as changeable as night and day. As Eliza delves deeper into Malcolm’s troubling history, the dark secrets she unearths gain a frightening power. 

The books I picked & why

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It Will Just Be Us

By Jo Kaplan,

Book cover of It Will Just Be Us

Why this book?

There’s no place like home, especially when it’s Wakefield Manor, where ghosts and memories are trapped in an endless loop. When the introverted, quirky protagonist Sam (who reminded me of my favorite Shirley Jackson character—Merricat Blackwood) is forced to welcome her estranged, pregnant sister back to the decaying family manor, Sam’s already-frayed nerves are pushed to the limit. But when her sister’s arrival becomes the catalyst for disturbing visions of a faceless boy with a penchant for cruelty, Sam seeks answers in the claustrophobic halls of her ancestral home. Who is this monstrous, cruel boy? What does he want? Seething with tumultuous family dynamics and a plot as complex as it is unsettling, the atmosphere of It Will Just Be Us had me enraptured from the very first pages and didn’t let go until the gasp-inducing ending. 

White Smoke

By Tiffany D. Jackson,

Book cover of White Smoke

Why this book?

If you’re looking for a modern haunted house story that will keep you up well past your bedtime, here’s the ticket. From the moment Marigold and her family arrive at their new, too-good-to-be-true home, she senses that something is off. Is it the unfriendly neighbors? The way the workmen abruptly drop their tools and leave at 5:35 every day? Or is it the creepy noises only Mari seems to hear at night? And what is that smell? The sense of dread is so keen within these pages that I found my anxiety ratcheting up with every scene. Not only is White Smoke viscerally scary, it’s also a smart, incisive look at the perils of gentrification, systemic racism, and the tensions within a blended family. Jackson seamlessly weaves social commentary and mental health representation into the threads of this thrilling haunted house story. I read it in one sitting. 


By Becky Wright,

Book cover of Priory

Why this book?

I love a classic, gothic haunted house story with an unexpected twist, and Priory delivers. When Oliver Hardacre returns to his namesake home, located outside the gloriously atmospheric Yorkshire town of Whitby, he opens the door to his past. The narrative is told from Oliver’s modern perspective and his mother’s point of view in the 1970s, when Oliver and his brother were children at Hardacre Priory. Replete with dark, twisted secrets and multi-layered, complex characters, Wright’s sentient, menacing estate comes alive under her masterful touch. This is a short read, easily finished in one sitting. Crack it open on a foggy morning, with a spot of tea and a blanket to cut the chill.

And the Trees Crept In

By Dawn Kurtagich,

Book cover of And the Trees Crept In

Why this book?

Hoping for a better life, Silla and her little sister Nori escape their abusive childhood home and journey to their aunt’s eccentric mansion, ensconced in a cloyingly dark forest. But despite their Aunt Cath’s warm, maternal welcome, something isn’t quite right at La Baume. The looming trees seem to draw closer every day, Nori’s new imaginary friend is a strange, faceless man in the woods, and Aunt Cath’s quirky, odd behavior quickly devolves into madness. Not to mention that strange creeaaking night and day, that sets Silla’s teeth (and nerves) on edge. This was my most recent read, which I chose to enjoy as an audiobook, where the excellent production quality brings Kurtagich’s prose alive with creepy sounds, music, and Polly Lee’s brilliant narration. Truly an immersive experience!

House of Leaves

By Mark Z. Danielewski,

Book cover of House of Leaves

Why this book?

I couldn’t finish this list without including a modern horror classic. After purposefully avoiding reviews, I finally read House of Leaves last summer. It took me almost a month. It was worth it. Part puzzle, part story, this is a book that both maddens and mesmerizes. The haunted house at the center of the story is an unassuming farmhouse on the outside—one like you’d see on any dusty one-lane road in America. But inside, a Stygian labyrinth of doors-to-nowhere, endless staircases, and shifting walls has Danielewski’s characters questioning their sanity. With its mixed-media format, copious footnotes, and the docudrama feel of the main storyline, House of Leaves blurs the lines between reality and fiction. The author calls his bestselling masterpiece a love story. I must agree. It’s a love story for the ages—to horror fiction and its fans. Unforgettable. 

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