In my Spooky Podcasts post I discussed the type of scary stuff I enjoy. Because of my pretty picky preferences, I’m actually not the biggest fan of horror novels. While I enjoy, thoroughly, being scared, most horror novels include one of the things I don’t like. And while there is really good horror out there and even some that I do enjoy my version of being scared by books tends to be centered in paranormal suspense/thrillers. But this list doesn’t just include my favorite frightening novels. It also includes my favorite Halloween book of all time, something I read multiple times throughout the year, and even daily now that I have my own kid! So without further ado, let’s get listing!
It’s Halloween: Jack Prelutsky
When I was a kid we owned a copy of this book and my dad made up tunes to go along with the catchy poems written by Prelutsky. The poems are spooky and fun, just perfect for your little trick-or-treaters. And if you feel inclined to make up your own tunes you’ll have the best Halloween carols to get you and your kids in the Halloween spirit! And who knows, if I get enough people asking for my songs, maybe I’ll put a few of them on Instagram for you to hear!
Thunderhead: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
This is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read in my life, including the handful of Stephen King I’ve picked through. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are my favorite authors, hands down, and they have an incredible talent for writing suspenseful, slightly paranormal, murder mysteries that I can’t get enough of. The entire Pendergast series is worth reading, but if you only choose one make sure it’s this one. It’s more of a stand-alone novel very early in the series, so there’s no need to truly know the characters beforehand. And the subject matter, skinwalkers, hits me right in the backyard (being from the state it’s set in) and in the goosebumps. If you get jumpy, I don’t recommend reading this one at night…
Relic: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Ah, Relic. My first foray into the world of supernatural thrillers. I will never forget the first time I read this book and will never forget how it altered my taste in novels forever. This is the first of the Pendergast series by Preston and Child, and it is the perfect first novel. Terrifying, thrilling, and with one of the best epilogues ever written, I cannot recommend this book enough. If you accidentally saw the movie don’t let that sour your opinion of this book. Just pretend, like I do, that the movie was never made, and fall in love with one of the best book series of all time. Maybe, like me, you’ll eventually have an entire bookshelf dedicated to just these two authors.
The Woman in Black: Susan Hill
I always take 4-5 books on vacation with me. There’s always so much downtime when you travel and I want to make sure I have enough material – especially when I travel alone. For one of my last work trips I took The Woman in Black, thinking it would be scary, but ultimately fine (I don’t read a lot of ghost stories that genuinely frighten me). But I was dead wrong. I read this the first night, all in one night, and was so scared I ordered room service just to have someone else come to my room for a moment. I couldn’t even leave my bed to go to the bathroom. Now, this book could be considered non-frightening because there aren’t any visions of the actual ghost, any jump scenes or violence. But the mastery of this novel is similar to The Haunting (my favorite scary movie). It doesn’t ever show you the ghost, what’s haunting the house. It leaves nearly everything up to your imagination. And if you’re willing to let your imagination run wild you’ll be terrified.
Amazonia: James Rollins
This was the first James Rollins book I read and it terrified me. His complex, well-developed plots are enthralling, and always center on some supernatural, unexpected terror. I remember my mom getting a bunch of Rollins for Christmas from my dad and, within days, I had borrowed most and them and read them. But this is the one that scared me the most – it was so gripping I literally couldn’t put it down and read deep into the night to finish it in one day. If you prefer thrillers to true horror I can’t recommend this book enough!
Bonus Guest Posts!
I have two in-laws who share with me my love for reading scary books. My sister’s brother, Spencer, reads all the horror I’m too chicken to pick up, and my husband’s sister, Teri, reads all the bewitching novels that I’ve never even heard of. So I asked both of these amazing readers to contribute guest paragraphs on their favorite scary novel and why it’s so good!
First, Spencer, is the first person I ever met who reads actual horror. He has recommended all of the Stephen King novels I’ve attempted and loves scary movies more than almost anyone I’ve ever met. He’s not intimidated by long, intense novels, so be warned about his favorite book! If you pick it up you’ll be in for 1000 pages of pure terror.
And second, Teri Harman, is a voracious reader who finishes as many books in a year as I dream of finishing. But she’s not just a reader, but also an author herself, and has published a trilogy about witches, The Moonlight Trilogy, and a stand-alone novel about dealing with grief, love, and loss, called A Thousand Sleepless Nights. Her website, including all her information and where to purchase her books, is here. Definitely go check her out!
Spencer’s Pick – It: Stephen King
When I was asked what the scariest book I have ever read was, “It” by Stephen King instantly came to mind. You’re reading about a monster whose main form of choice is a clown, has a way of figuring out your deepest fears and secrets, and then uses those to scare the main characters senseless. You find out that he does this as a way to survive and “feed” off of their fears. Clowns are unsettling to begin with but now everyone can experience a little coulrophobia. The character development is so amazing in “It”, you feel a personal connection and feel such horror when you see how It chooses to present itself to them. The book kind of makes you evaluate your own fears and you start to become very aware of every phobia you feel. “It” really got into my head and stuck with me long after the back cover was closed.
Teri’s Pick – The Winter People: Jennifer McMahon
Set in a small town in Vermont, this physiological thriller brings the mysteries of the past roaring into the present. In 1908, Sara Shae is found dead behind her farmhouse shortly after her daughter disappeared. In the present day, seventeen year old Ruthie lives in Sara’s house with her mom, Alice, and younger sister. When her mom goes missing, Ruthie finds Sara’s diaries hidden under the floor in Alice’s room. But can the secrets inside help Ruthie stop the past from repeating itself and save her mom?
This book is beautifully written, with rich emotions and deep characters. The mystery is impossible to turn away and the atmosphere thrilling. The supernatural elements are mystical and perfectly creepy. So, so good!