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13 new Halloween reads to chill, amuse, inform and terrify

Halloween is almost here and the days are getting shorter — which means more time to read spooky tales under the cover of night.

Seeking the company of vampires, witches or mysterious tarot decks? How about modern hexes or the true story of Lincoln’s ghost? Here are 13 new titles to read by jack-o’-lantern light:

1. “In the Footsteps of Dracula” edited by Stephen Jones (Pegasus Books, $29.95)

Beginning with Bram Stoker’s Victorian-era Dracula and ending in the 21st century, this collection of more than 30 stories follows the evolution of the King of Vampires since his unbirth. Contributors include Ramsey Campbell, Graham Masterton and Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse series that was the basis for HBO’s “True Blood.”

2. “Basic Witches: How to Summon Success, Banish Drama, and Raise Hell With Your Coven” by Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman (Quirk Books, $15.99)

Looking for some DIY magic? “Basic Witches” taps into the power of positive thinking and self-care. With spells for everything from establishing boundaries to making peace with your body, the practical mantras and rituals in “Basic Witches” help banish toxic vibes and summon the sorcery to lead an empowered life. Pairs well with a cauldron of rosé.

3. “Lost Envoy: The Tarot Deck of Austin Osman Spare” edited by Jonathan Allen (Strange Attractor Press, $40.95)

Part of a British occult revival during the early 20th century, Austin Spare was a prolific outsider artist with a lifelong interest in mysticism and divination. (He was also an acquaintance of notorious counterculture figure Aleister Crowley.) In 2013, long after Spare’s death, his hand-painted tarot cards were discovered in London’s Magic Circle Museum. “Lost Envoy” reproduces this mysterious deck.

4. “The Ghost Box” edited by Patton Oswalt (Hingston & Olsen, $31.63)

Edited by comedian, actor and horror fan Patton Oswalt, “The Ghost Box,” is a creepy black box full of even creepier ghost stories published by an innovative Canadian press. Unpack the stylish, individually bound mini-books by George R.R. Martin, Dennis Etchison and more and follow along with Oswalt’s read-alongs, released daily on Facebook from now until Oct. 31.

5. “Strange Weather” by Joe Hill (William Morrow, $27.99)

Joe Hill, bestselling author (and son of horror legend Stephen King) presents four novellas in this new book. Laced with uncommon menace — an apocalyptic rain of nails, a Polaroid camera that erases memories — these stories are ultimately rooted in something sinister: the anxieties of modern life.

6. “Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City” by Kate Winkler Dawson (Hachette, $27)

In 1952, a serial killer was on the prowl in London, strangling women. That same year, the Great London Smog — a maelstrom of coal smoke and lethal pollution — descended on the city. “Death in the Air” weaves the stories of both killers. What’s scarier: A murderous madman (now known to be John Reginald Christie) or an environmental disaster?

7. “The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine” by Lindsey Fitzharris (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27)

This new book puts the blood-and-guts where they belong: in medical history. Not for the faint of heart, the aptly titled “The Butchering Art” recounts in vivid, gory detail the gruesome reality of 19th-century surgery and its transformation by Joseph Lister, a British surgeon who pioneered antiseptic surgery. Sample chapters of this harrowing history include “The Sutured Gut” and “They’re All Dead.”

8. “The Doll’s Alphabet” by Camilla Grudova (Coffee House Press, $15.95)

Literary fiction can be terrifying too. Having drawn comparisons to Margaret Atwood, Leonora Carrington and Angela Carter, Camilla Grudova’s debut collection of short stories opens with “The Unstitching,” in which women shed their skin to discover their true selves — sewing machines — buried below. Seriously feminist and seriously creepy.

9. “Literary Witches: A Celebration of Magical Women Writers” by Taisia Kitaiskaia, illustrated by Katy Horan (Seal Press, $20)

Paying tribute to the magic of their words, “Literary Witches” reimagines 30 female authors as witches of the literary arts. Tony Morrison is “Queen of Miracles, Generations, and Memory”; Agatha Christie the “Grand Dame of Trickery, Murder, and Teatime.” Each entry is accompanied by a fanciful illustration and recommendations of the author’s most spellbinding works.

10. “The Art of Horror Movies: An Illustrated History” edited by Stephen Jones (Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, $40.00)

This coffee-table book is a comprehensive journey through the history of horror films with more than 600 film posters, advertisements and promotional art. A compendium for horror film aficionados, “The Art of Horror Movies” contains page after page of full-color, campy images and a forward by John Landis, whose directing credits include the classic horror film “An American Werewolf in London” and Michael Jackon’s epic zombie music video, “Thriller.”

11. “The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost” by Peter Manseau (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27)

In the wake of the Civil War, subjects whose portraits were taken by “spirit photographer” William Mumler were reunited with the ghosts of their dearly departed, who miraculously hovered beside them in the developed frame. Mary Todd Lincoln famously sat for Mumler after Abraham Lincoln’s death, and while we now know that his photographs were fakes, “The Apparitionist” tells the true story of how Mumler’s hoax captured America’s grieving imaginations.

12. “The Witch: A History of Fear, From Ancient Times to the Present” by Ronald Hutton (Yale University Press, $30)

In this scholarly exploration of the witch, Hutton, a leading authority on paganism and witchcraft, traces the idea of witches far beyond the Salem witch trials to beliefs and attitudes about witches around the world throughout history. Why is the fear of witchcraft so widespread and tenacious? Read “The Witch” to find out.

13. “The Big Book of Rogues and Villains” edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Books, $25.00)

Edited by Otto Penzler, an award-winning purveyor of mysteries and thrillers, “The Big Book of Rogues and Villains” is stalked by a cast of the deviant crooks, creeps, criminals and con men. Stories in this 928-page anthology include nail-biting tales by H.G. Wells, Washington Irving, O. Henry, Edgar Wallace, Donald E. Westlake and Lawrence Block.

agatha.french@latimes.com

@agathafrenchy

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