Sometimes a reader can find themselves in a season of life where getting some solid reading time is difficult. I remember when we first moved up here to Washington and I was so busy with the move for months. That business later evolved into “settling in” and then job hunting and lastly, landing a full-time job. Finding time to read was not even a priority. It made me really sad. I had zero daytime reading hours so nighttime was the only available “free time” but I was exhausted and would often fall asleep after a few pages.
This is when I started latching on to short story collections and novellas. Literally, anything under 200 pages that I could either read in one sitting or a couple of hours split up over a few nights. Slowly, reading time became available to me again but I never lost that love for the binge reads. I like to read short stories in bursts, whenever the mood strikes. I sandwich them in between novels. I’ll devour a couple before bed or while I eat lunch. I have never experienced a reading slump but I hear they’re great for that situation and I often recommend a combination of these 25 books to help cure slumps.
An author once told me that readers often steer clear of the “short story” genre. I have no idea why that would be. It’s this reader’s experience that some of the best fiction I have ever read was told in 200 pages or less. The following are those books:
(Sidenote: These are novellas, novelettes, short story collections, and poetry collections. All exactly under 200 pages. There were books I wanted to include but they were *just* over 200 so I didn’t. I also only used one book per author, even though some authors have a variety of great titles under 200 pages, like Chad Lutzke and Kealan Patrick Burke)
*All the quotes about the books are from my reviews and are my own words.
Of Foster Homes and Flies by Chad Lutzke 163 pages
“I could have read this book for hundreds and hundreds of pages. Chad Lutzke has a unique brand of storytelling.
It's actually amazing to me what he managed to do in less than 200 pages--the depth of character he developed with the protagonist, a 12-year-old boy named Denny, is actually a powerful testament to Chad's ability as a writer.”
In The River by Jeremy R Johnson 140 pages
“Don’t expect to dip your toe into the current, plan on recklessly throwing yourself into the deep end.
In the River is a brilliant offering; the pain and the strange beauty of it will wash over you and sweep you away.”
Mapping the Interior Stephen Graham Jones 110 pages
“This is what I like to lovingly call a "gut punch".
SGJ pulls you into this 12-year-old boy's headspace effortlessly. Being an avid reader of the horror genre, my particular sweet spot is for stories narrated by young boys on the cusp of manhood. There's just a layer of emotional investment for me (being a mother of two boys-one grown and one 12 years old right now).”
A House at the Bottom of a Lake Josh Malerman 118 pages
“Don't pick this up expecting to be scared-but first love is scary.
And don't think this is a horror novella...although a house underwater is horrifying.
Just enjoy this fairytale-like tale of two young lovers who discover, adventure, explore and dream in A HOUSE AT THE BOTTOM OF A LAKE, where the only one who sees them, is you.”
Widow’s Point Chizmar Richard, Billy 156 pages
“It gave me this feeling of being around the campfire, listening to Chizmar tell gruesome story after grisly story about this seemingly sinister lighthouse.
I could easily see this as a movie! It would be fantastic!
Fans of classic ghost stories/haunted houses will love this tale and it should be in every avid horror reader's collection. Very well done, Richard & Billy!”
Come Closer Sara Gran 176 pages
“I'm recommending this read for people who enjoy those psychological, unreliable-narrator, creeping-dread, disturbing stories that just get more and more messed up and crazy as it goes on.
Truly, there were some standout moments here that if this was a movie, I’d cover my eyes.
Scary, scary, scary.”
Out Behind the Barn John Boden, Chad Lutzke 125 pages
“In the end, my heart exposed, rendered and gently squeezed walked away from the last page feeling sad to say goodbye and a little worse for wear. However, I also felt like I had been given a gift by two creatives who truly know what readers want. An experience/journey that won't likely be forgotten and that's exactly what they accomplished. I hope, hope, HOPE that these two collaborate again. This was a real treat.”
Broken Shells Michael Patrick Hicks 124 pages
“Holy Moses-this is some fresh hell.
This story has one of the best horror setups I have ever read. Several pages in, I was saying to myself, "This is not going to go well." and by that, I mean, not too well for the protagonist Antoine DeWitt but plenty well for a reader of dark things like myself.”
Sour Candy KPB 82 pages
“What a wonderfully disturbing read this was. Insidious, mind-bending, quiet in its strength and just plain horrifying. Well played, Mr. Burke.”
The First One You Expect Adam Cesare 100 pages
“--the story goes bananas in the best possible way.
I could not turn the pages fast enough. My favorite thing about Adam's writing is how relevant and accessible it is for people who exist right now in the horror industry. The references to pop culture, social media, Kickstarter, follower counts--it's clear that Cesare has his finger on the pulse of horror.”
The Ocean at the End of the Lane Neil Gaiman 181 pages
“This book was one of my favorite reads of 2015. It was quick and beautiful. The imagery was like a painting--the more time you invested in it, the more detail it revealed to you. At first, you think the story is going in a certain direction but then, as all good fantasies do, you are led expertly and deftly down a much darker path--an unexpected detour. Neil Gaiman is a wonderfully imaginative storyteller. A true wordsmith.”
Rites of Extinction Matt Serafini 150 pages
“This book is as dark and disturbing as it gets. I’ve come to expect nothing less from the type of stories Grindhouse Press chooses to represent in their catalog. It’s amazing to me how Matt Serafini managed to bring something totally original and unexpected to this novella. I’ve never read anything quite like it. I would also hedge a bet that not one reader will see the ending coming.”
The Switch House Tim Meyer 185 pages
“Meyer expertly develops a small cast of characters in the matter of a few pages and then throws them down the gauntlet. The horrors stack up with an unrelenting pace; each fresh scare building the tension to the perfect climax. I was legitimately frightened 30% into the book and I knew it had the potential to make me not want to turn the lights off or forget to leave my closet door open.”
Dreaming at the Top of My Lungs Israel Finn 157 pages
“This is definitely one of the best possible introductions I've ever had with an author--I'll stand in line for more of Israel Finn's work. He caught my attention with his unique storytelling abilities and his dark, imaginative story ideas. I'm all in!”
Let There Be Dark Tim McWhorter 180 pages
“I’m thrilled to report that Tim McWhorter’s collection of short stories did the trick! This would be perfect for your October reading list because the scares are there. For someone that loves scary stories as much as I do, it’s weird that I am also such a scaredy cat and have a variety of phobias. Tim managed to touch on a few of them throughout his range of tales he gathered together in Let There Be Dark.”
The Sea Was a Fair Master Calvin Demmer 130 pages
“I love food almost as much as books, I'd like to paint a visual picture of my reading experience of The Sea Was a Fair Master by saying it was very much like Calvin had me over for Horror Tapas.
Instead of eating a meal off one plate of one kind of food (novel) a reader can sit down and enjoy a tapas meal where there are several small plates of food-each one totally delicious & different but not enough to satisfy all by itself.
That's what this collection is: Delicious, lick-your-fingers-tasty stories served up one right after the other until you're full of yummy horror.”
Love for Slaughter Sara Tantlinger 104 pages
“LOVE FOR SLAUGHTER is a provocative, alluring collection of intimate poems about love, lust, and relationships. At first blush, the violent language is new and intense but then as you read more, it becomes evident that all the cutting and killing and bloodletting are used to express the danger and vulnerability we experience in our love.
"...I scream, I love you, kill me.
And you echo, I love you, kill me."
*Butchery, Sara Tantlinger”
I Am Not Your Final Girl Claire C. Holland 91 pages
“There is something in every poem that struck a chord with me.
Holland resurrected women from horror and put a knife in their hand, a fight in their souls and words in their mouth--This is a must-have poetry collection for horror cinephiles, fans of dark poetry, defenders of women's rights, horror fiction hoarders, and badass women who won't go down without a fight.”
The Tired Sounds, A Wake Michael Wehunt 92 pages
“I read one description in here about grapefruit with my mouth gaped open like a big, stupid fish because how did he *do* that?? How did he find the exact thing to say about grapefruit? Like he crawled into my head and extracted some random thought I had like several years ago...about GRAPEFRUIT. I don't know. As I said, this writing is oddly personal. ...you don't need a rundown of the story. You just need to know that Michael Wehunt is one to watch and one to collect. I own Greener Pastures, his debut collection of short stories and I loved *that* and I loved *this* and I'm a fan. I'll buy whatever he writes.”
White Knight and Other Pawns Bracken McLeod 186 pages
“This kind of storytelling makes for page-turning action I LIVE for. Before the reader knows it, Bracken pulls you deep into a complicated story with vibrant characters and many twists and turns. Then it’s over. The ending like a whip crack in your mind...Friends and fellow horror lovers--MacLeod fans,
my suggestion is that if you’re like me and already have an appetite for short stories AND you’re a big hardboiled, crime-thriller noir fan, you’re going to want this for your collection. Trust your Mother Horror.”
The Fearing Book One Fire & Rain John F. D. Taff pages
“And this is where Taff is a damn genius. He proves time and time again that in just a few pages, in just one scene, he can manipulate the feelings of his readers and make us care about these people on the page like THAT *snaps my fingers*.
He does this effortlessly.”
Waiting Out Winter Kelli Owen 102 pages
“This novella was rich with well-developed characters. Instead of following this pandemic tragedy on a large scale, the author zeroes in on a family and the day to day struggles they face. It’s an emotional rollercoaster as the reader engages in the family’s victories and losses. My favorite aspect of this book was how realistic it was. It infiltrated my real life fears-especially when there was a huge, slow fly trapped in the car with me while I was driving. I rolled all the windows down and I was relieved when it finally found its way out!”
The Bone Weaver’s Orchard Sarah Read 190 pages
“This book was one of those stories that you find yourself thinking about all day while you’re busy “adulting” and looking forward to jumping back into as soon as you get in bed at night. My time with Sarah Read and her words on these pages are some of my favorite. A serious contender for my favorite book of 2019.”
The Body Stephen King 192 pages
“One of my all-time favorite coming-of-age stories. The boys here are so fleshed out and the reader can’t help but get invested in their story. Some of the best scenes of dialog I have ever read or will ever read again. Stephen King had his finger on the pulse of young boys for this one--their voices leap off the page and nestle into your reader’s heart and there they stay.”
The Visible Filth Nathan Ballingrud 68 pages
“Every time Ballingrud peeled back the curtain to reveal a glimpse of what stirred behind the scenes, he simultaneously orchestrated the characters to shuffle about and cover it up again. As a result, the tension building is extraordinary; ultimately setting the stage for an eye-popping, mind-blowing ending.