The Southern Bookseller Review: Scary Stories are the best stories

October 2023

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October 2023

Zombie Hands

Scary stories are the best stories.

There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.”― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

In this special edition of The Southern Bookseller Review, we celebrate the stories that scare us. Southern booksellers love the scary, the spooky, the eerie, the downright strange and horrific.

The first stories may have been told around campfires. The anthropologist Polly Wiessner has noted in her study of the hunter-gatherer Ju/’hoan people of Namibia and Botswana that during the day, most conversations were task-related and gossip. But at night, 80% of the "firelit" conversation was storytelling: myths, adventures, stories of themselves and of other peoples.

"Fireside gatherings are often, although not always, composed of people of mixed sexes and ages. The moon and starlit skies awaken imagination of the supernatural, as well as a sense of vulnerability to malevolent spirits, predators, and antagonists countered by security in numbers.  Body language is dimmed by firelight and awareness of self and others is reduced. Facial expressions—flickering with the flames—are either softened, or in the case of fear or anguish, accentuated."
— Polly Wiessner, "Embers of society: Firelight talk among the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen"

The joy of telling scary stories around a campfire may be as much as 400,000 years old. Keep that in mind the next time you find yourself reading that vampire novel under the covers with a flashlight. You are part of an ancient, hallowed, (and harrowing) tradition.

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Recommended by Southern indies…

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due


The Reformatory by Tananarive Due
Saga Press / October 2023

More Reviews from Avid Bookshop

The story of two black teenage siblings, one wrongfully over-sentenced to indefinite time in the titular Reformatory (based on the infamous Dozier School for Boys), the other working from the outside (if you could call Jim Crow-era Florida “outside”) to get her brother out. With a father MIA, having narrowly escaped a lynch mob for trying to unionize, and a mother recently deceased (but not 100% out of the picture), every choice and action made by the teens give the book a one-step-forward-one-landslide-back momentum right up to the last page. Due brilliantly plates an equal parts jailbreak and ghost story, both playing by history’s rulebook, pulling no punches along the way, with neither element hindering the other, which is a feat on its own, but to make it edge-of-seat-worthy with an epic showdown-at-high-noon finish is just extra icing on the icing.

Reviewed by Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia

Tananarive Due, Photo Credit Melissa Herbert

Tananarive Due is an American Book Award and NAACP Image Award­–winning author, who was an executive producer on Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror for Shudder and teaches Afrofuturism and Black Horror at UCLA. She and her husband, science fiction author Steven Barnes, cowrote the graphic novel The Keeper and an episode for Season 2 of The Twilight Zone for Paramount Plus and Monkeypaw Productions. Due is the author of several novels and two short story collections, Ghost Summer: Stories and The Wishing Pool and Other Stories. She is also coauthor of a civil rights memoir, Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights (with her late mother, Patricia Stephens Due). Learn more at

Bookseller Buzz


Spotlight on: Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas


Isabel Cañas Photo Credit Kilian Blum

I am more conscious of writing characters with agency than I am of writing “strong” characters. This is in part due to the fact that many of my early drafts flounder when the main characters lack agency, which I then need to address in revisions! With this story, however, I knew from the start I would intentionally give my main character a voice and a choice in her fate. I decided this for two reasons. First, women, especially those who were not members of the elite, are often silenced in the historical record due to the nature of the sources that survive from the pre- and early modern periods. Giving them a voice in fiction is very important to me. Second, female victims who lack agency is one of the great tropes of classic vampire fiction. Writing vampire stories in the post-Twilight era is a deft game of trope-tipping, and I absolutely wanted to knock that trope in particular on its head in a way that felt organic in a historical setting.
― Isabel Cañas, Interview, Nightmare Magazine

What booksellers are saying about Vampires of El Norte

Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas
  • An epic adventure, gothic love story. The romance of Nena and Nester, torn apart as children, captured my attention in the first few chapters and never wavered throughout the book. A great follow up book to The Hacienda.
      ― Kathy Clemmons, Sundog Books in Santa Rosa Beach, FL | Buy from Sundog Books

  • The rancho and surrounding landscape are so alive that I can easily tell Cañas lived this in a thousand and one nights of storytelling at her abuela and tias’ feet. While I was reading, I wondered why Cañas chose vampires as the monster rather than something like El Cuco. Especially since the MC Nena uses the legend of El Cuco to quickly explain the danger of the situation to her family. Cañas’ author’s note explains this and her choice to keep the vampire/El Cuco separate made the Yanquis approach all the more monstrous and creepy. The romance between Nena and Nestor was fabulous. Loved the ending, and especially the way Nena "dealt" with the vampires in the end.
      ― Candice Conner from The Haunted Book Shop in Mobile, AL | Buy from The Haunted Book Shop

  • Isabel knows the realm of gothic romance like the back of her hand- Like she’s an apprentice to Del Toro himself. Vampires of El Norte is haunting, both in the depictions of vampires, and the history it follows, of continued colonization that’s violent, horrifying, and seemingly never ending. Yet amongst all of it, there is the reminder that above all, love, all kinds of it, is how we fight back against those who terrorize. Love is the strongest force possible to back the fight. Familial, platonic, and romantic. And salt. Lots of salt.
      ― Caitlyn Vanorder from Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, NC | Buy from Bookmarks

About Isabel Cañas

Isabel Cañas is a Mexican American speculative fiction writer. After having lived in Mexico, Scotland, Egypt, Turkey, and New York City, among other places, she has settled in the Pacific Northwest. She holds a doctorate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and writes fiction inspired by her research and her heritage.

Never Whistle at Night : An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology by Shane Hawk (editor), Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. (editor)


Never Whistle at Night : An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology by Shane Hawk (editor), Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. (editor)
Delacorte Press / September 2023

More Reviews from Epilogue Books

An exciting collection of creepy tales from both young authors and noted horror greats. The stories within Never Whistle at Night play within the rules of established horror genres, but there is so much variety from story to story; as a fan of all kinds of horror, I was very happy to have basically every itch scratched. “The Prepper” by Morgan Talty, “Collections” by Amber Blaeser-Wardzala, “Wingless” by Marcie R. Rendon, and “Snakes are Born in The Dark” by D. H. Trujillo were my four favorites.

Reviewed by Sam Edge, Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The Haunting by Natasha Preston


The Haunting by Natasha Preston
Delacorte Press / September 2023

More Reviews from Fountain Bookstores

Just in time for Spooky Season. Preston’s latest pays homage to the Scream franchise in this deliciously thrilling tale. Penny and her friends are still recovering from the serial murders that hit their town last Halloween, and when a copycat killer seems to get going on the anniversary of last year’s tragedies they are determined to stop them. Penny’s ex Nash is the son of the man in jail and she’s not going to stop until she proves Nash’s innocence in the copycat spree. The twists abound until the final haunting night of their search for justice.

Reviewed by Andrea Richardson, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

There’s No Way I’d Die First by Lisa Springer


There’s No Way I’d Die First by Lisa Springer
Delacorte Press / September 2023

More Reviews from Square Books

Horror movie buff and aspiring film critic Noelle Layne is certain that she would be the Final Girl in any slasher scenario but she never expected that her skills would be put to the test when the "pretend" killer clown at a Halloween party turns out to be the real deal. Now, it will take all of Noelle’s know-how to survive the night and hopefully keep her friends alive with her. Lisa Springer delivers a pulse-pounding thriller that readers will not be able to put down– but be warned, you should read this one in the daylight.

Reviewed by Charlie Williams, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

Every Night at Midnight by Peter Cheong


Every Night at Midnight by Peter Cheong
Atheneum Books for Young Readers / August 2023

More Reviews from Bookmarks

Secrets, always secrets. Every night, secrets. And with the nighttime aesthetic, beautiful white on black line work to contrast with the daytime bright whites and classmates from whom he hides his truths. But with trust, surprises come out from unexpected places. A great story for talking about identity, secrets, sharing, trust, and friendships. Could be used for Halloween but certainly should not be limited to that!

Reviewed by Lisa Yee Swope, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The Unfortunate Side Effects of Heartbreak and Magic by Breanne Randall


The Unfortunate Side Effects of Heartbreak and Magic by Breanne Randall
Alcove Press / September 2023

More Reviews from M. Judson

The Unfortunate Side Effects of Heartbreak and Magic casts a spell! Can’t get enough witchy reads? Me neither! It has all the good things, family, true love, magic, and mystery. Get ready for spooky season with a great read.

Reviewed by Susan Williams, M. Judson Booksellers in Greenville, South Carolina

The Garden Witch by Kyle Beaudette


The Garden Witch by Kyle Beaudette
 Eye of Newt Books / September 2023

More Reviews from Fountain Bookstore

Seemingly silly yet surprisingly emotional, this book follows the story of a witch with a magical garden. But not all that’s magical is welcome for this witch. She has rats that won’t leave her house whose favorite pastime is bullying her and threatening to eat her. And, as if matters couldn’t get worse, nobody wants to buy the witch’s potions at market. She finds unexpected help when her garden produces a dancing turnip who helps her cook and clean. A delightful read about how the love you give finds its way back to you in unexpected ways.

Reviewed by Daniel Tyler, Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia

Parting Thought

“The brain had its own food on which it battened, and the imagination, made grotesque by terror, twisted and distorted as a living thing by pain, danced like some foul puppet on a stand and grinned through moving masks.”
– Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Publisher: The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance /
Editor: Nicki Leone /
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