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Here are some of NPR's favorite scary reads of 2021


When the days get shorter, the air gets colder, we like to curl up in a chair with a nice mug of cocoa, a soft fleece blanket and a creepy-crawly horror novel. Books We Love, NPR's list of best reads from 2021, has hundreds of recommendations. There's so many good choices. It can be hard to know where to start. So today, here are four suggestions from our colleagues - what to read if you would like to pick up something just a little bit unnerving.


LEAH DONNELLA, BYLINE: Hi, my name is Leah Donnella, and I am the supervising editor of NPR's Code Switch podcast. The book that I'm recommending is called "My Heart Is A Chainsaw." It's by Stephen Graham Jones. And it's about this 17-year-old named Jade Daniels, and she is absolutely obsessed with horror movies and slashers. She completely sees the world through the lens of these movies, so everything to her is doomed towns and sinners, masked killers and final girls. But behind Jade's really dramatic interpretation of events, she's also experiencing this much more mundane kind of horror. There's the loneliness of a girl with next to no community, the isolation of living in a small rural town, being one of the few Indigenous people in that town, the specter of wealthy newcomers who are coming and treating her town, Proofrock, as this new world to be conquered. And then there's the trauma that she has to deal with within her own family. If you are down for something that will both scare you and make you sad, but also keep you gripped to every word, that book is "My Heart Is A Chainsaw."

PREETI AROON, BYLINE: I'm Preeti Aroon, a copy editor for the news articles on npr.org. I recommend "Quiet In Her Bones" by Nalini Singh.


AROON: The story takes place in New Zealand. One stormy night, 10 years ago, the mother of 16-year-old Aarav vanishes. Aarav awakens to a piercing scream and sees the red taillights of his mother's dark green Jaguar fade into the darkness. Ten years later, authorities have discovered his mom's skeleton inside her Jaguar in the dense bush that surrounds their affluent cul-de-sac. Aarav turns himself into a detective, scrutinizing all the neighbors. But Aarav seems to be losing his own mind in the process, and we can't seem to trust his own memory.


NINA FILL, BYLINE: My name is Nina Fill. I am an executive assistant here at NPR. The book I'm recommending is "Velvet Was The Night" by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. "Velvet Was The Night" is a historical crime noir that takes place in 1970s Mexico City at the start of the Dirty War. It's a time when the Mexican government is suppressing rock music and attacking activists. The novel follows Maite, a 30-year-old secretary who loves romance books and lives a lonely, boring life amidst the political unrest. When her young neighbor asks her to watch her cat for the weekend and then suspiciously disappears, Maite goes looking for her, deep in a world of radicals and dissidents.


LOS SALVAJES: (Singing in non-English language).

FILL: "Velvet Was The Night" is a richly immersive novel with suspense, complex characters and a riveting storyline. Be sure to find the novel's Spotify playlist and have that on in the background to be completely transported back in time.


LOS SALVAJES: (Singing in non-English language).

LIAM MCBAIN, BYLINE: My name is Liam McBain. I am a production assistant for It's Been A Minute. I recommend "Summer Sons" by Lee Mandelo. It's about a Vanderbilt grad student named Andrew, and the plot kicks off when he investigates the apparent suicide of his closest friend. He quickly falls into a world of streetcar racing, bad boys and centuries-old secrets - all that while being haunted by his friend's ghost. It's a very atmospheric Southern Gothic, and it has a really visceral style. I totally felt the terror of those hauntings and the mounting pressure.


MCBAIN: Also, the themes of loss and queer longing really resonated with me. I really couldn't put it down, and I thought it was a perfect, spooky read.

SIMON: There you have it - four scary books to chill you this winter. That was Liam McBain recommending "Summer Sons." You also heard Nina Fill on "Velvet Was The Night," Preeti Aroon suggesting "Quiet In Her Bones," and Leah Donnella on "My Heart Is A Chainsaw."


Liam McBain
Liam McBain (he/him) is an associate producer on It's Been a Minute. He's interested in stories at the margins of culture.
Preeti Aroon
Nina Fill
Leah Donnella is an editor on NPR's Code Switch team, where she helps produce and edit for the Code Switch podcast, blog, and newsletter. She created the "Ask Code Switch" series, where members of the team respond to listener questions about how race, identity, and culture come up in everyday life.

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