15 Compulsive Novellas To Read This Summer
As with the previous article – no, these are not novellas set in Summertime. Well, maybe some are. Are they? Damn, I gotta go double-check. Actually, you know what – no, you can find out later if they are.
Anyways, by now you’ve read my soon-to-be-self-award winning feature ’20 Compulsive Summer Novels to Read’ and walked away shaking your head thinking ‘Steve, you douche – I HATE NOVELS! BAH! They take so long and they’re like 300+ pages and I like to just read a story and be in and out and done!’
Well, first, I take offence that you just called me a douche! How dare you!
Second – fair point. With the resurgence or re-emergence of the novella, we readers have been rewarded with some amazing stories that are short on page count but stuffed to the brim with everything you’d find in a novel. Character depth, emotional pull, death, gore, boobs, penises and so so much more! The novella has returned (for some readers it never left) and so, I offer up 15 novellas that’ll make your mouth water, your eyeballs fry and your TBR lessen as you rip through these, some within an hour!
Let’s start this list off with an absolute bang.
Armageddon House – Michael Griffin (Undertow Publications, May 12, 2020) *124 pages
WHHHHAATTTTT. This story will hold you in its grasp from start to finish. A group of people live deep underground in a subterranean facility. Unsure of what is on the surface or around them or even what makes up the facility. This one drips with dread and uncertainty and will almost force you to reread it immediately to try and unravel the clues.
All Hail the House Gods – Andrew J. Stone (StrangeHouse Books, July 4th, 2018)*134 pages
Speculative Bizarro. Is that a thing? Stone made it a thing if not. Across the bridge, on the other side of the river lays the houses. Monstrous man-eaters who control the world. On this side of the river are the human survivors, breeding to feed the houses and stay alive in this post-apocalyptic hell. This is one of the best novellas I’ve ever read and is a must-read.
Transfer – Terry M. West (Pleasant Storm Unlimited, December 13, 2019) * 51 pages
‘Transfer’ was my first go-around with West and what a pleasantly awful story to start with. A couple of employees are tasked with digitizing VHS tapes. Transferring them from the tapes to the computer. Suddenly a strange clip begins to play and from there West delivers a fantastically brutal read. Loved it.
The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave – J.H. Moncrieff (DeathZone Books, February 25, 2017) *116 pages
This one is dark and haunting. A step-dad who doesn’t like his step-son gives the boy his old teddy bear. Of course, this is horror, so the teddy is pure evil and the scares come fast and furious. Moncrieff has a way of penetrating your soul with her writing and this one makes sure to worm its way in and settle deep inside. Great stuff.
Broken Shells – Michael Patrick Hicks (High Fever Books, February 6th, 2018) *124 pages
Down on his luck, a man finds a flyer that offers up a reward at the car dealership. Believing it’s too good to be true, he goes anyways. From here Patrick Hicks gives us a brutal creature feature with some scenes that’ll make you squirm and hyperventilate.
The Special – James Newman & Mark Steensland (Bloodshot Books, October 20, 2018) *108 pages
Two talented authors team up to ask us the age-old question – “WHAT’S IN THE BOX?”
Our main character wants something different and his buddy says he can offer it. But he can only experience it once, or he’ll become addicted. Sure enough, the man overdoes it and things unravel. This is depraved in the best way possible and now has a feature film out.
Jack & Jill – Kealan Patrick Burke (Independently Published, December 2nd, 2013) *104 pages
How to pick just one Kealan? That was the struggle for this feature because Kealan really is the King of Novellas. I ultimately went with ‘Jack & Jill’ because it offered the most emotional damage of all of Burke’s work and that’s saying something. This one is both psychological and physical horror and one that will stay with you for a long, long time. This one follows a woman who starts to have dreams related to the death of someone when she was younger. That’s all I’ll give you. Go get it.
Woom – Duncan Ralston (Shadow Work Publishing, September 7, 2017) *138 pages
Speaking of psychological horror, have you read ‘Woom’ from fellow Canuck Duncan Ralston? This one is labelled extreme for a reason, but unlike many other extreme novellas, Ralston tells a well-crafted story of a man trying to come to terms with his past. It is a dark, introspective piece of writing filled with horrific events and will stay with you far longer than your visit to that hotel.
Crossroads – Laurel Hightower (Off Limits Press, August 10th, 2020) *110 pages
Another psychological horror story, Laurel Hightower is one of the best writers out there examining grief. She told a sad, stark tale in her novel ‘Whispers in the Dark,’ but it is in ‘Crossroads’ that she elevates her examination to another level. Following a mother struggling with her grief and depression after her son dies, Hightower shows the lengths a parent will go to reunite with their lost loved one.
Cats Like Cream – Renee Miller (Unnerving, April 10th, 2018) *51 pages
Hey look at that, another Canuck! Renee Miller is a masterful novella writer (and novels too!) but ‘Cats Like Cream’ is perhaps one of the best novellas I’ve ever read, not just from her, but from anyone, period. We get to follow a creepy real estate agent who likes to set up hidden cameras and watch people in their new homes. But as things often do, they go off the rails. Outstanding work.
To Be Devoured – Sara Tantlinger (Unnerving, July 29th, 2019) *62 pages
A gut-churning novella from one of the best writers out there, ‘To Be Devoured’ by Tantlinger is one that you’ll… uh… eviscerate through your eyeballs in short time. The story follows Andi as they grow fond of Luna, but also fond of how flesh tastes. Nothing is held back and Sara makes sure to make the reader suffer for it. Phenomenal.
Mr. Cables – Ronald Malfi (JournalStone, November 6, 2020) *99 pages
Insanely, ‘Mr. Cables’ was my first experience reading Malfi and what an experience it was. Originally published a few years back, JournalStone re-released this novella in 2020 and I pre-ordered it and read it immediately. An author at a book signing is given one of his books to sign by a fan. Only it’s a book he’s never written. Or has he? Filled with paranoia and dread, Malfi crafted such a gem here that you’ll be taking a second look at your bookshelf.
The Mud Ballad – Jo Quenell (Weird Punk Books, April 30th, 2020) *142 pages
Weird Punk Books is one of the leaders in small press releases, putting out stunning release after stunning release. For me at least, nothing says that better than Quenell’s ‘The Mud Ballad.’ This is a story that’ll leave you feeling dirty even after showering. Conjoined twins are separated in a small town and when only one lives, they regret their decision and try to undo the damage. Bleak, sad and engrossing.
Dear Laura – Gemma Amor (Independently Published, July 2nd, 2019) *111 pages
If I was teaching a creative writing class and the topic of dread was on deck, I’d simply walk in, toss a paperback of ‘Dear Laura’ on each student’s desk and tell them to read it and let it osmotically merge into their writing brains. Genius. The story of a girl who watches her friend get kidnapped, only to receive letters from the kidnapper is frightening, heart wrenching and unflinchingly brutal. Amor is a fantastic writer and this will leave you gasping for air.
Alright, there you go. 15 novellas. If you’re efficient, buy all 15 and you could read every single one over two days and you’ll thank me for it. If not, well that’s not my problem!
I hope this list ultimately gets you to seek out some of these books, these authors and hopefully you’ll find a few on here that you want to read and buy them!
Steve Stred is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections. He has appeared in anthologies with some of Horror’s heaviest hitters.
He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his wife, son and their dog OJ.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
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