Tune in to Terror | Horror Audiobook Stars

Even devoted horror fans may want to listen with the lights on to these tales of haunted houses, cursed media, and severed limbs.  

Hand, Elizabeth. A Haunting on the Hill. Hachette Audio. Oct. 2023. 1019p. ISBN 9781668632536. Audio. $27.99. HORROR

In Hand’s (Hokuloa Road) hair-raising tribute to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, vacationing NYC playwright Holly Sherwin discovers an old upstate New York mansion for rent and thinks it an ideal setting to put the final touches on her new play about Elizabeth Sawyer, a London woman hanged in 1621 for being a witch. With Holly is her songwriter girlfriend, Nisa Macari, who is adapting traditional murder ballads for the play; their friend Stevie, an actor and sound producer; and Amanda Greer, a successful but fading actress. Their initial readings of the play are thrilling, in a good way. But the knife-wielding neighbor, spooky voices, mysterious cold spots, and bloodstains—not so much. As if listeners won’t be creeped out enough by the story, delivered with a growing menace that narrator Carol Monda evokes with her low, throaty voice, subtle sound effects were worked into the production so listeners hear creaks, footsteps, and scratching along with the terrified characters. VERDICT Hand’s reworking of the Hill House legend is brilliant on its own, but sinister sound effects and Monda’s spine-tingling narration (which includes show-stopping renditions of the spooky murder ballads) make this an absolute must-have for horror collections.—Beth Farrell

Leeds, Scott. Schrader’s Chord. Books on Tape. Sept. 2023. 12:31 hrs. ISBN 9780593795774. $95. HORROR

Leeds’s strong debut evokes the best of Stephen King, backed by a soundtrack with a grungy guitar beat. Talent scout Charlie Remick has found some of the hottest musical acts, but his life is put on hold when his estranged father dies by suicide. When he returns home to Seattle, he discovers his father found four cursed records that have the power to open a gateway to the land of the dead. After Charlie, his sister, and their two friends play the records, the clock starts ticking. These four, along with Charlie’s resurrected father, must somehow close the door before Ivan Schrader, the records’ creator, silences them all forever. Leeds deftly displays his knowledge about music and his skill in writing gory deaths, including descriptions of the resurrected dead who still wear the body trauma that killed them. Far from being gratuitous, the violence is interwoven with layers of story and character development that will have listeners invested in the characters’ plight. Narrator George Newbern’s vocal talents keep the characters distinct, creating sympathetic individuals who oscillate from funny to frightened. VERDICT Music and horror fans who like their ghost stories gooey and their music loud should give this story a spin.—James Gardner

Orlando, Carissa. The September House. Books on Tape. Sept. 2023. 1332p. ISBN 9780593747308. Audio. $95. HORROR

Orlando’s masterful debut follows Margaret and her husband, Hal, who discover their dream house is haunted—but only in September. The month is full of gory, ghostly manifestations, but Margaret and Hal soothe themselves by remembering that there are 11 normal months after that. Margaret approaches life with determined practicality and a quirky inner voice that immediately charms. Kimberly Farr embodies that voice to perfection. Her depiction of Margaret epitomizes the unflappable American mother found in many a sitcom, perfectly balancing her against the story’s gruesome autumnal backdrop. Farr follows Orlando’s layered story, believably depicting each new development as the story moves from horror to tragedy to triumph. Although the book lures listeners in with humor, it soon becomes a moving exploration of the hidden costs of resilience and survival. As the novel nears its end, listeners may find themselves poking at the tender parts of their own lives. They will also likely spend that final half hour barricading the door against intrusions as they are caught up in the marvelous finale. VERDICT This perfect synergy of author and narrator will have broad appeal. For fans of Rachel Harrison and Grady Hendrix and anyone seeking a unique haunted house story.—Matthew Galloway

Rosson, Keith. Fever House. Books on Tape. Aug. 2023. 13:46 hrs. ISBN 9780593790175. $95. HORROR

Rosson’s (The Mercy of the Tide) latest supernatural thriller features criminals, government agents, and broken people trying to survive the apocalypse. It begins with a severed hand found in a freezer. The hand has a seductive and terrible power, and it has crossed paths with several people, including a loan collector/leg breaker, an agoraphobic rockstar, and members of a government agency who were supposed to be guarding the hand. But now the hand is free to corrupt the city of Portland before it summons an even greater evil. At first, this novel feels like a mashup of John Wick and Harry Dresden with less martial arts, but Rosson ratchets up the tension until listeners may feel that the cursed hand is wrapped around their own throats. Narrator Xe Sands’s characters do sound similar, which is understandable, as she voices a large ensemble cast. Even so, listeners will appreciate how her voice gradually transforms from weary cynicism to choked horror as the world unravels. VERDICT Rosson’s dialogue and characters may attract fans of noir-adjacent fiction, but it’s the true horror fans who will love riding out this apocalypse.—James Gardner

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