In other words …
Scary stories to read by the light of a full moon.
You want murder? I gotcha.
Twisted endings? You bet.
Maybe a vampire? Scroll down.
I read a lot of thrillers, y’all. Like, an embarrassing amount of thrillers. I could keep this list going for all of eternity, but to keep it short and sweet, here are 13 of my very favorite October books.
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Creepy Books for Halloween Reading
1. The Death of Mrs. Westaway
But The Death of Mrs. Westaway was different. It’s a throw-back to a creepy, Agatha Christie-type novel. The flavor is rather gothic, as opposed to the twisted shock-value that is all the rage in thrillers right now.
As for the plot, it centers around a lonely girl named Hal, who, while yes, she does lie her way to get out of a situation, is still likable and someone to root for. In the beginning, she receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. The problem is, the letter isn’t meant for her. Same name, same address, but definitely NOT her relatives. However, being chased and shaken down by someone she owes money to, missing her dead mother, being all alone in the world … she decides to claim it anyway.
Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased, where she plays along pretending to be someone she most definitely isn’t. Her fake relatives seem to believe her, but something is very, very wrong.
I liked the story for it’s old-fashioned sense of mystery, brooding setting, eerie relatives, and a likable heroine who tries to right her wrongs. The “bad guy” wasn’t a shock (there isn’t a huge cast so there’s not a lot of people to pull from), but there were a couple twists that I didn’t see coming.
2. Emma in the Night
A twisty, turny mystery that you won’t soon forget…
‘One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.’ ~ from the jacket.
I loved this book for the excellent foreshadowing, the strong writing, and for not being one of your typical, run of the mill, chic-lit thriller (I call them Early Readers for Moms, though I confess to enjoying them just the same). Walker introduces a whole new kind of evil, and I learned all sorts of things I didn’t know I wanted to know about psychological abuse and narcissism (not being snarky, it was actually extremely interesting).
The best part? An ending I did not see coming (which is my favorite kind).
3. My Husband’s Son
I was so intrigued by the reviews on this one that I bought it, sight unseen and book unread, which is something this loyal library girl doesn’t do often. I then loaned it out too many times and it disappeared, but at least I know someone else is enjoying it as much as I did.
Married couple Heidi and Jason aren’t like other couples. Six years ago, Heidi’s daughter was murdered. A year later, Jason’s son Barney disappeared. Their shared loss brought them together in a support group for grieving parents, and they start a new life together. By chance one day, Heidi meets a boy she’s certain is Barney, but Jason is equally convinced it’s not him.
You’d always recognize your own son … wouldn’t you?
A slim novel that packs a punch, and with a twist at the end that will leave you breathless and possibly angry (but in a good way).
4. A Head Full of Ghosts
A Head Full of Ghosts develops around a family who star in a reality show called The Possession. At the center are Marjorie and Merry, two sisters. Marjorie is either possessed or schizophrenic – the jury is out – and Merry is our 8 year old narrator. Having our story told by a child makes for a great and unusual book; it just works. It’s told in simplistic verse, but Merry sees things the adults don’t see, so you’re actually at an advantage.
Spooky and atmospheric, downright scary, and with a fabulous twist that made me tip my hat to Tremblay, this is a great ghost story for October.
5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Shirley Jackson is the queen of thrillers, sophisticated yet scary.
I read this all in one sitting.
Right before bed.
Did I dream of reclusive, murdering sisters, reaching out for me in the dark? Yes. Yes, I did.
6. Shadows Falling
Speaking of murderous sisters who might give you bad dreams, I’ve been told Rose Gray can do that for you as well.
Since I wrote this one (full disclosure!), I can’t say it scared the tuna salad out of me, but it sure did some other people I know. This is Book II in the trilogy, but it’s the scariest of the three and could be read as a stand-alone when you’re in the mood for something dark and twisty.
Read it and let me know what you think!
7. Then She Was Gone
Edgy and addictive, dark but full of beautiful humanity, this was the culmination of all of Jewell’s other novels (or at least what I wanted them to be).
When Ellie was fifteen, she disappeared without a trace. No amount of police work or the desperation of her mother, Laurel, can bring her back. Eventually, after divorce and a surface-y relationship with Ellie’s surviving sister, Laurel finds love with another man, a single father, with a young daughter named Poppy. Poppy is precocious, smart, and loves Laurel. She’s also the spitting image of Ellie.
I found this extremely well-thought out. Sometimes you read a thriller and it feels like the author just threw in a bunch of stuff at the end that had nothing to do with anything, or just added in all the normal and typical tropes you’d find in a mystery novel, just for the heck of it, but Jewell placed every word just so. And it went much deeper than just a nice twist at the end.
I loved her other books, but at a 4 star level. This one, however, was what I wanted that final star to be. Just really good. Get it.
8. The Winter People
When a ghost story grabs you from the dedication in the front-pages:
For Zella, because one day you wanted to play a really creepy game about two sisters whose parents disappeared in the woods … you said, ‘sometimes it just happens.’
…to the Intro:
Q. Bury deep, pile on stones, yet I will dig up the bones. What am I?
….you know the book itself has got to be good.
This is a full-length, complicated book but I read it all in one day, knowing I’d likely give myself nightmares but figuring it’d be worth it.
I loved what the author did with The Night Sister (see next), combing some folk stories and fairy tale elements into her murder mystery (and not backing down from them).
Well, she did it again with The Winter People. I almost took a star off due the last few chapters of the book being a bit rushed and feeling like some of the sentences weren’t as perfect as the rest of the well-placed, intentional words in the story, and maybe the ending itself wasn’t full-on flawless after all you go through with these characters, but I couldn’t do it. It’s a four-and-a-half-five-star, ghostly, Halloween, creeptastic tale. Definitely worthy of your Halloween reading list.
9. The Night Sister
I picked this up for a dollar at a thrift shop, and, though I had already started a different book a few days before, I went ahead and took this one to the bath with me, intending to just read the first chapter.
I’d never heard of it, nor the author, and I don’t typically buy books I haven’t read. Even for a dollar.
But before I knew it, I’d been in the tub for two hours and I had passed the halfway mark of this novel. I got out, freezing cold, with pruney toes and blue lips, scared to stop reading and scared to keep reading. This book is scary, y’all!
And I kept thinking, AH-HA! I GOT IT! I KNOW WHERE THIS IS GOING! And then… You don’t know jack.
Maybe it wouldn’t have been so frightening in the daytime, surrounded by people, but I was alone in the house until midnight. I read the last word without coming up for air that night.
I was literally nervous to fall asleep, thinking I’d have bad dreams (I did dream of a terrible kidnapping … but it involved vegetables).
McMahon’s premise of the run-down motel, the leaning tower, the knowledge that something bad happened in the past, the not-quite-right sisters, the gory modern-day murders, the letters to Hitchcock … it all makes for a page-turning yarn that gave me delicious creeps. Memorable and unusual, with a nod to Grimm’s fairy tales, Alfred Hitchcock, and classic murder mysteries like Shirley Jackson and Agatha Christie. Get yourself a copy.
10. I Let You Go
This is a book you want to go into cold turkey – don’t read reviews (except for mine, haha), and don’t ask your friends what it’s about.
I got it as an impulse buy at Target because it was on sale and I wanted something to read and it looked decent enough.
Holy rusted metal, Batman, the first major twist comes at exactly the halfway mark. Maybe I’ve just been stuck with crummy, subpar mysteries and thrillers lately, with “twists” I see coming a mile away, but I personally did NOT see Mackintosh’s twist coming. (Some reviewers say they did, but personally I think they’re lying.)
I hit that point and was all, huh? What’s going on? Go away, small child, and stop asking Mommy for food, she needs to think.
It’s good enough I may go back and read it again, so I can see the clues more clearly. This Halloween-worthy thriller is dark and twisted and quite scary, too.
Ian is a monster of a villain and very well formed, and I also really felt like Ray and Mags and Kate were written in a realistic and solid way. The suspense parts were nail-biting scary, and the end was well-crafted.
An all-around excellent and well-written novel that I read all in one day (along with a Christmas celebration, a dance class, children, and chores) because I had to know what was going to happen.
If your Target doesn’t have it in the sale bins, get it here.
11. The Woman in Black
One of the most famous ghost stories ever written, this slim novel packs a punch. Super creepy and gothic.
It’s a little book that is easily read in a couple hours. I had approximately two heart attacks during my reading: the wind slammed shut the screen door behind me without warning, and my son dropped a handful of silverware in the kitchen a half an hour later. I’m pretty sure I died both times.
Scary, thrilling, perfect for any mystery lover.
Just, you know, fasten your doors and hide your silverware.
This one provides a good reminder to not peruse people’s reviews before I read a book myself because, had I read all the one and two stars reviews, I likely wouldn’t have given it a chance.
(I gather this was a very popular read a few years ago, and you know how fickle people can be. In one moment, out the next.)
Honestly, I hadn’t really ever heard of this book and when I picked it up at the library I couldn’t even remember why I had put it on hold. Some bunny trail had led me to it at some point evidently. Yay for bunny trails; I thought the writing was lovely and the two sisters were very well drawn. It was well-researched and very suspenseful. The ending had me literally exclaiming out loud, Wait?! What?! No way!
Kudos to Rosamund Lupton; she wrote an engaging thriller with family drama and violence that didn’t resort to constant F-bombs and sex scenes. I loved this novel.
13. Immortal Faith
It happened! It happened! It finally happened for me!
I. LOVED. A.
*wait for it…wait for it*
I never thought the day would come. I ate up this book like it was so much dark chocolate souffle. Or something equally yummy.
Combining a cloistered community of religious people with vampires? It’s like Grave Mercy’s assassin nuns. Or The Scorpio Race’s killer Irish horses. Or anything by Ann Patchett.
Seriously, I am just going to fill up a bag full of the craziest plots ever, shake them up, draw out two, and then write my next book. This is my plan, so help me.
One of the most crazy amazing things is the way Adina made you root for the vampire from the beginning. Nutty, obsessed, undead demon, ferreting out the creeps who have infiltrated this religious commune? Why, yes. Good plan. I like it. Go, vampire, go! No, wait! Can’t have that! I’ve read my bible. This is probably bad. Murder not good. Drinking blood – very very bad. Yes. I knew that.
Eat it up here.
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