Get in losers, we’re going into a spooky books nightmare.
October is the greatest month of all the months, for many reasons. 1) there’s a baller L. M. Montgomery quote about how great of a world we have because there are Octobers in it. 2) I have a black cat, and he really thrives during spooky szn. 3) I can read all the horror novels and watch all the horror movies and talk about them at lunch every day and people still
mostly want to be friends with me.
If you, like Bane, were also born in the dark – raised in it! – then this is your time to shine (likely from your paleness, as we do not thrive in the sun). I have amassed some chilling, wild, and just-plain-weird stories.
The books are ranked 1-5 on the level of hair-raising-ness, but I’ll be the first to say: I like ‘em spooky. I have little patience for blood and guts and things that hide poor storytelling behind gory limbs. So, if you’re looking for things like SAW and Texas Chainsaw, I’m not your gal. If you want to stress yourself out and then stare pensively out a window, lean in.
Here are some spooky books to curl up with this Halloween:
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
“But Rachel,” you might say. “I just watched the Netflix adaptation, which was so spooky! Why would I need to read the book, which is more literary and less modern?” Well, my sweet child, these are the reasons why. First of all, Shirley Jackson is a genius, and I have never finished a single one of her books and felt confident in my sanity or my stance on the book’s resolution. Second of all, a talented monster woman named Bernadette Dunne narrates the audiobook, and if you think you can get through listening to Eleanor descend into madness without feeling a little mad yourself, you’re wrong. Third of all, Hill House has one of the juiciest openings of all time:
"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."
I nervously sweated through the last act of this book. 4/5 pumpkins.
The June Boys by Court Stevens
This cover gives me the heebie-jeebies, and bonus, it doesn’t feature a white woman’s distorted face. This book’s plot feels like a podcast that NPR would have been all over: a small town where, once a year, little boys are kidnapped on June 1st. They are held in captivity for a year, and released alive the following June, essentially to be traded out for more kidnapped boys. This has been going on for nearly ten years. The book centers on Thea, whose cousin is one of the “June Boys” this year. Except, now, one of the kidnapped boys turns up dead. And Thea thinks the kidnapper might be her dad. BIG YIKES. This book gives me MAJOR “A Good Marriage by Stephen King” vibes, and I’m obsessed. It’s not out until next Spring, but keep it on your radar (and in your nightmares).
Feed by Mira Grant
I have found my niche with zombie literature, and it is zombie literature that takes place decades after the initial outbreak. If you think these aren't spooky books, you clearly haven’t read World War Z, or you’d still be lying awake at night thinking about the “last broadcast” from Buenos Aires and the K-9 units and not arguing with me about this. Feed is truly a novel about freedom of the press, the spread of disinformation, and the value of the truth – published in 2010. All of this is wrapped up in a clear and coherent zombie story.
Brother/sister journalists are selected to follow a presidential hopeful as he hits the trails in a world that was infected 20 years ago, and you’ll be equally unnerved by the zombie attacks and the way a widespread murder plague has transformed the political, economic, and social climate. Check this out via audio as well, and you’ll get solid dual narration and GREAT emotional acting. I had to stop listening at a highly stressful and climatic scene in order to run errands in a Target, and I walked around in a trance. I potentially shed a few tears near the soaps.
Hunting the Unabomber by Lis Wiehl and Lisa Pulitzer
I seem to be the one white girl on planet earth who isn’t into true crime, but I will not withhold from you, my sweet spooky children. Because I could not provide, I went to our resident expert true crime weirdo, and asked her to bless us. This is what she said:
Hello fellow spooky people! I, like many of you, have an “obsession” with true crime.
In fairness, it’s not a NEW fad. All of our parents watched 20/20 and 48 Hours and other news stories of crazy and volatile family dynamics. There was even a newspaper article dedicated to true crime in France in the 1700s. So, don’t worry, you’re in good company with your true crime obsession. At least that’s how I justify it to myself.
Which leads me to the new book, Hunting the Unabomber. The Unabomber is one of the most interesting spooky books about true crime out there. In the mid 90s everyone was in a state of panic due to the Unabomber, the mastermind behind random acts of terror. You never knew where you were safe, or where he was going to attack next. The man was the epitome of chaotic evil.
The new book by Lis Wiehl and Lisa Pulitzer takes you on the true journey of FBI agents closing in on an isolated cabin in Montana where the Unabomber lived. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve read a bit about this dude, and watched a few documentaries on his story, but this book contains exclusive interviews with those involved and recreates the manhunt like never before. Smart, methodical, but so eerie and spooky.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
This book is only 200-something pages, and every single one of them is a TRIP. The ending shocked me so much that I panic-laughed on a Delta flight, which my seatmate did not appreciate. It’s about two Nigerian sisters – older sister Korede and younger sister Ayoola – and Ayoola is maybe, probably, a serial killer. Beyond this riotous premise is also a book that makes you think big thoughts about privilege, social media, and how far a person should reasonably go for their family. Buckle. Up.
The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn (aka Dan Mallory)
493029 and a half years late, I finally read The Woman in the Window. And let me say: it did not disappoint. I’ve been burned recently by a lot of the huge, blockbuster thriller novels, and even though this one contained all the hallmarks of a bad book waiting to happen (unreliable narrator, domestic location) I literally couldn’t put it down. And as I kept assuming I knew where the book was going, I kept being wrong. Numerous times. Worth the hype, worth a read, and definitely worth knowing the context of the book so you can read that New Yorker expose about how it turned out the author might have also been…off.
The Illuminae Files (all three books) by Amie Kaufman
Undoubtedly and unashamedly the best literary experience I had in 2019, let me present to you: The Illuminae Files. Three books with separate stories woven together to ruin your dang life, this YA space epic is epic in a literal sense.
There’s people, and they are in space, and there’s zombies and government corruption and corporate greed and romance and some strong female leads. There’s some Hot Takes on what medium you should experience this through, since the physical is an actual artistic journey, but I am firmly in favor of the audio. It’s a full cast, full production experience, and this series made it into this list because of AIDAN, an AI system who progresses through the series more and more intelligent and a less and less artificial. At one point during the series, I was so stressed out and unnerved by AIDAN that I shrieked in my car. Sorry, folks on Harding Road.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Can you call yourself a true connoisseur of spooky books if you haven’t read one of the pinnacles of speculative horror, The Yellow Wallpaper? Well, I definitely did, because I just read it last year and up until then I was missing out. It’s a short short-story and packs a punch. There’s not much I can say without spoiling it, but if you’ve been putting this off, you might as well read it this afternoon, so you can brag at parties and chastise your friends who haven’t read it yet for being uncultured.
Bonus Podcast: Bear Brook
This isn’t a book, and it is true crime, but I want to give credit where credit is due. After Sarah Koenig essentially single-handedly invented the investigative true-crime podcast, we have all been overwhelmed with them some, ranging from great to downright pitiful. Bear Brook is freaking great. Its first great feature is that it’s done by a local NPR station, and the host’s soothing tone is the best way to experience haunting information. The second thing is, the twists, the turns, the ups, the downs, the QUESTIONS. My goodness, the questions!
Someone finds an oil barrel in the woods, and inside of it, you guessed it, two bodies. So, who are they?
It will take decades before investigators answer this question, so buckle up! During the investigation we journey across the entire country, hear multiple seemingly unrelated stories, and 15 years after the initial discovery find ANOTHER BARREL IN THE WOODS containing two more bodies! WHAT IS HAPPENING?
It’s hard to put this story into words. On paper it seems like a crazy screenplay that gets turned into a D-list movie. How do all of these stories correlate? Why are we in California when the murder took place in New Hampshire? Did we just forget about the bodies? What’s going on? We’re missing some major plot points here. Am I having a fever dream?
And then BAM. Everything gets linked together in the most insane way. In the end, we gain most answers, but not all, and this story will forever change the way murders are investigated.
Well, there you have it spooky friends. These are my seasonal recs for spooky books. I hope you curl up and have a great and haunting Halloween!
Page Chaser is operated by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (HCCP), the publisher of The June Boys and Hunting the Unabomber. HCCP is a subsidiary of HarperCollins, Inc., the publisher of The Woman in the Window.