It’s that spooky time of year again when thoughts turn to scary books and movies. I decided to ask two of my favorite groups on Facebook – the Science fiction Romance Brigade and the SciFi Romance Group – what scary stories had terrified them the most and why. Science fiction romance doesn’t tend to have horror or terror elements, so we agreed up front the books mentioned could be in any genre. Scary could have many meanings!
We’ve compiled quite a varied list for you!
As you might expect, Stephen King books came in for many mentions. Salem’s Lot was by far the book mentioned most often (time for a new mini series maybe?). Several people agreed with reader EG: “I wouldn’t look out a window at night for weeks.” And Ella chimed in: “I could not sit next to windows at night for a while.” Victoria remembered this spooky detail: “…the way he kept giving you the time before sunset freaked me out.” Linda shared: “I couldn’t read it after dark. I could only bear it when it was daylight outside!”
King’s Pet Sematary came in second in our discussion of King books. As Wendie said: “I had to close the book, take a few moments to get my courage back, and then continue reading.” Alexandra reads it once a year and said: “…my favorite book of all time…that one line ‘sometimes dead is better’, gives me chills every time.”
Also mentioned were IT, The Shining, Misery (“every writer’s worst nightmare,” says author Tiffany), The Dark Half and his collection of short stories in Skeleton Crew. One story in particular from the latter volume, ‘The Jaunt’, was mentioned several times. “So disturbing,” says Cassandra. “Gave me nightmares for months,” reported Cynthia, adding that “It shouldn’t have been so upsetting but the storytelling was so tight.”
A few by Dean Koontz popped up in the discussion. Amy cited Strangers, saying,” Have you ever had that creepy feeling that something lurks on the edge of your memory but you’re better off not remembering? This book made me sit at the edge of my seat, anticipating every revelation until the final shocking reveal!!“ Koontz’s novel Watchers was brought up a time or two as well.
A couple of classics were listed. First the original Dracula by Bram Stoker. “Read it as a young mother. Gave me nightmares and made me fear uncovered windows at night,” Pauline reported. Turn of the Screw by Henry James made Kara, who was reading it for a college class, “…stop and go look for a friend in the dorm because it was spooking me out so much.” Chris was ‘haunted” as a child by “ErlKonig”, a poem by Goethe, based on a German legend. The concepts really bothered her on “dreary November days walking through the heavy fog to school.”
More recent standards such as The Bad Seed by William March, The Amityville Horror by Jan Anson, The Exorcist by William P. Blatty and The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin were all included.
Of Amityville, Laurie said, “Amityville… has stuck with me as the scariest book I’ve ever read. It gave me nightmares for decades. Bad guys and evil stalkers don’t faze me, but demons and dark things and unknown evil entities that go bump in the night absolutely terrify me.” KJ added, “This one resulted in my sleeping with all bedroom lights on for weeks and no further attempts to read that genre! Still gives me the creeps to think about…”
Brenda’s experience with the Exorcist was typical of the comments. “First time my parents ever left me home alone overnight, I read The Exorcist. Bad idea. Never did see the movie, afraid the visuals would stay in my head forever. (I was 16.)” Kaye had the book read to her, “I was young and my brother who loved macabre read it to me…” Not a good bedtime story, I’d say!
Jan sums it up well for the power of The Stepford Wives: “I still remember the horror that filled me with. There was something so casual about the idea of fundamentally losing your own free will and sense of self. It’s one of the few books I never reread.”
Author Shirley Jackson came in for several mentions, starting with The Haunting of Hill House, one that gave me nightmares for a long time. Reader Murrell describes the book thusly, “Classic ‘let’s stay overnight in a haunted house’ story. No gore, just good, thrilling writing and spooky enough for me. (I don’t do horror!)” Jackson’s The Lottery was also high on many people’s lists but so was her We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which I must confess I never read. Jenifer says, “I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle every first day of fall. Every year. One of my top 10 favs.”
Given the ‘interesting’ times we live in currently, probably no surprise that George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale both came up in the conversations. Carol shares her first reaction to Nineteen Eighty-four. “I read it at an impressionable age. It scared the life out of me. I wanted to sleep in the bathroom, the only room without windows, with the lights off, so Big Brother wouldn’t spy on me. Brrrrrr!”
There was science fiction mentioned in the list, with Lindsay giving credit to Michael Crichton. “Typical horror stuff doesn’t scare me much because it seems so unlikely. But stuff like Andromeda Strain? I stayed up all night reading that one. Mutating microbes that kill people and that could escape containment and wipe out civilization. Maybe too close to being a possibility for comfort!” KJ brought up Blood Music by Greg Bear, and World War Z by Max Brooks gave Nancey “stress dreams.” Catherine cited The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey.
Jenna brought up a personal favorite of mine, Ammie, Come Home by Barbara Michaels. I loved that book and my copy got very dog-eared because I re-read it so much. Here’s Jenna’s take: “I don’t really read a lot of super scary stuff. No horror or anything like that. But I like ghost stories a lot. One of my favorites is Ammie, Come Home by Barbara Michaels (whose real name was Barbara Mertz, and who also wrote as Elizabeth Peters). It’s old – late 1960s, I think – and dated, especially when it comes to clothing and stuff like that, plus everyone smokes, but as ghost stories go, it’s phenomenal. And has one of the creepiest possession scenes ever written, in a very classy and subdued sort of way.” I also really was creeped out personally inagoodway by Michaels’ The Crying Child.
Tonya recommended the Peri Jean Grace Ghost Thrillers by Catie Rhodes and Annetta Ribken. “I can only read them during the daylight hours…the main character is an unwilling medium, and her contacts with that realm are super spooky. *Shiver*.”
Alexandra recommends Midnight Is a Lonely Place by Barbara Erskine. “Windswept east coast of England, snowed in with angry Roman and Celtic ghosts still seeking revenge after 2000 years… The audio version is hair prickling on the back of neck creepy.”
Tasha recommends Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. “It’s a sort of epic horror story of an African-American son looking for his missing father, and it’s set in the Jim Crow era. There are ancient houses, creepy villages, and ghosts and spooks but the most terrifying moments were the ones between the people.”
Liza cited Lincoln Farrish’s Inquisitor books, which she says get more frightening from the first book onward.
Ariel recommends the works of Ania Ahlborn. “Every single one of her books is fantastically disturbing and scary. I buy and gobble up everything she writes.”
Kim mentions Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl. “…when I was a child. I remember not being able to open the book again after the wormy aliens in the lift. And…I just looked at the illustrations in my copy and I can see why. Eep, lol I don’t think I’ve ever read beyond that point.”
And then there was The Scholomance by R. Lee Smith, of which Michele said, “…pretty darn freaky. It’s a horror romance about a woman who crawls and fights her way into a school run by Demons, only to find out she’s a Demon herself. Sort of a very twisted version of Harry Potter at Hogwarts.”
JC gave us another choice, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. “Hands down one of the most dread-inducing books I own or have read. I got to the point where I didn’t want to turn the page because I was afraid of the next one. (It’s very meta- to say the least, but it’s a book that knows it’s a book. It uses that medium to build dread and create fear. It could never be a movie, because it needs your participation to work).”
Alexis had an interesting comparison with her suggested spooky read, Feast of Souls by C. S. Friedman: “…magic only works by draining one’s own soul or stealing somebody else’s, and the dragons are absolutely the evil twins of those in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider books!”
There were more, like Perfume The Story of a Murderer by Peter Suskind and John E. Woods. The Hellbound Heart: A Novel by Clive Barker. Penpal by Dathan Auerbach. Woman in Black by Susan Hill. Birdwoman by Jeffe Kennedy, which terrified me. A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.
Hopefully your library of spooky reads is now pretty full with all of our suggestions! What’s your favorite go-to read for thrills and chills on a Halloween night?