Friday, October 22, 2010

Spooky books to read for Halloween

I love Halloween. (At least here in the Northern hemisphere) The days are getting shorter and things get darker earlier, colder. With the leaves turning and the wind howling, it's the perfect time to curl up with a blanket and read a really scary book. Here are some spooky suggestions for what to read around Halloween. For me, books about Halloween says ghosts. and monsters. and zombies. There is obviously a big resurgence of paranormal books on the market at the moment involving vampires and werewolves etc, but I think you guys would probably know more/better about that than me!

First up, we have ghost-y books.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - Did I tell you that I'm now running an online book club? This is my first book group selection for October. It's about a boy who's entire family is murdered by a very sinister looking man in black, so the boy seeks refuge in a graveyard and is raised by ghosts. It's the perfect book to read for Halloween AND it's written by Neil Gaiman. Please don't overlook it - join us in the discussion, if you'd like.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James - Less than 100 pages, this is one that will get to you with it's spookiness. It doesn't use big, obvious ways in which to scare you, but lets you infer things yourself, lets your imagination run away with itself. Set in an old estate house, with two small children and only a young governess to look after them, strange things are going on...

If you're interested in subtle ghost stories told through literary fiction, then possibly try Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger about two American twins whose inheritance is a flat overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London or The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters which explores Britain after World War II.

Also, have you ever looked into your own city/state/region for ghost stories? I think it's makes it extra-special-ghoulish when the ghost stories are that local. It's worth checking out! I wrote a post a few years ago about the ghostly-goings-on in my neighbourhood :)

And if you are looking for something a bit .. more, here are some vampire/monster offerings:

Dracula by Bram Stoker - Vampires are the new black it seems, but here's the original vampire story. I found it a bit dull, but lots of people rave about it. It's a far, far cry from the transformation of vampires in modern literature. Thus, the appeal, I'd suppose.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - This is an update to Dracula which has seen some very mixed reviews. I've heard it can drag in some parts, but I've also heard that it's filled with lots of historical detail and atmosphere. At over 700 pages though, it isn't for the faint of heart, but I hear it's a vampire story very intelligently written without romanticising vampirism.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson - I've only seen the movie starring Will Smith, but I hear the book is a lot better in many ways. More psychological and chilling. What would it be like to be the last man alive, surrounded by vampires? I hear the vampire aspect of it eventually become more of a side-story as the main characters works through his own issues. Still sounds like it could give sufficient chills when reading this Halloween.. Come out Neville!

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - The ultimate horror book. I had this as an assigned book in one of my university courses and I still haven't read it :( Everyone knows the story, right? Mad scientist creates monster then is rejected by its creator and monster goes on a rampage. The film adaptation seem to be a very different creation to the book, so be sure to check it out.

Also, be sure to look out for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde for a better glimpse at psychological thrillers investigating the monster within.

And for zombie enthusiasts:

The Enemy/The Dead by Charlie Higson - I absolutely adore this new series by the author of the Young Bond books (amongst others!). The characters, all children aged 14 and under must fight to survive with all the adults gone zombie. They've hidden out in the local Waitrose but decide to go on the move to find more food and allies. Very interestingly written, a new series not to miss!

World War Z by Max Brooks - I haven't actually read this one, but zombies and Max Brooks seems to go hand-in-hand. It seems to be the ultimate book about the zombie apocalypse. Brooks writes about a not-too-distant future in which we are invaded by zombies. He looks at the ways in which different countries and corporations have responded and dealt with this as well as provided witness testimonies.

And for more zombie goodness, there's always The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan and the sequel, Dead-Tossed Waves.

Deliciously creepy:

Edgar Allan Poe - Nothing says Halloween better than Edgar Allan Poe. A fan amongst a lot of nerdfighters that I've spoken to, his stuff is a mixture of horror, mystery and suspense. While I've been writing this blog post I have re-read the poem The Raven and have found it still as creepy fantastic as I remembered. Any favourite Poe poetry/short stories?

We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson - I think this has to be one of the spookiest covers ever. Gives me goosebumps just looking at it. It's a slim story of two sisters whose family have all died of arsenic poisoning. They live in a crumbling old castle and from the very first page there is a general feeling of uneasiness about the story...

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins - I just read a review of this book that called it a mixture of Gothic horror and psychological realism. Ooh. That sounds good to me! There's the general feeling that quite a lot is going on in The Woman in White: Collins writes of mental patients escaped from the asylum, differences in class, marriage and other long-standing institutions and a mystery with very sinister characters. I shall definitely be looking out for this one.

For more recent YA choices, I'd suggest either White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick (which I've just finished reading *shudder*) or Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, both of which are recently published.

For nostalgia purposes: Goosebumps or Fear Street by RL Stine. Am I showing my age here? I absolutely adore RL Stine and when I was much younger, I always got very excited every time I saw a new book by him in the library.

What's your favourite book to read at Halloween? What's the scariest book you've ever read?


  1. I have just finished Her Fearful Symmetry and would definitely recommend it, as well as The Little Stranger.
    I am presently reading The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud and that is lovely but full of ghosts.

  2. Vivienne - I'm glad you enjoyed both of those. I have HFS AND The Little Stranger, but haven't gotten to either :( I read Charlie St Cloud awhile back, but can't quite recall the details. I haven't normally been very big on reading spooky books for Halloween, but I've been reading a bunch lately..

    White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick and The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan have both given me the chills when reading them. *shudder* Only happy books for me for awhile!

  3. This is a great list. I think Turn of the Screw and Poe would be up there as some of my scariest books. Woman in White, Little Stranger, Dracula and some of your others are great too.

  4. Fab list. I love a scary book, and the ones I've read from this list are definitely eerie. I was a big Fear Street fan once upon a time too, and while the one I read last year wasn't terrifying, there's something addictive about them.

    I read a YA book called The Waking: Dreams of the Dead last year that was really scary. It's about an American girl who goes to school in Japan, and it's worth a look for anyone who likes a scare.

  5. I can't really answer that question seeming as how I do not like scary books. I have read Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde - creepy and brilliant. White Crow come to think of it too but that is as far as I go!

  6. I read Her Fearful Symmetry and The Little Stranger last year and enjoyed them both, The Little Stranger especially. The Graveyard Book was a must as I love Neil Gaiman's writing, but it took me a while to get into it.
    The Isle of Wight, where I live, is full of ghost stories, including the theatre where I do some amateur dramatics. Apparently the ghost of a woman killed in a bombing raid in WW2 appears as a blue butterfly on every opening night...

  7. Avid Reader - I really would like to read more Poe. And Woman in White. Perhaps for next Halloween!

    Lauren - Ooh. The Waking, sounds interesting, I'll have a look! Thanks.

    Becky - I didn't used to like scary books either! Now they're growing on me :)

    Katie - OOH! Real ghosts are way scarier than books, I think. How wonderful :)


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