Ghosts and plagues and murder, oh my! As the weather cools off, cuddling up with a hot cup of apple cider and a scary story is exactly what spooky season calls for. For the month of October, I’ve compiled a spine-tingling selection of books, ranging from classics to contemporaries that are sure to have you on the edge of your seat!
- “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn
If you want some creepy Kansas vibes this Halloween, definitely pick up “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn. As the author of “Gone Girl” and “Sharp Objects,” and hailing from Missouri, Flynn knows a thing or two about channeling the dark side of the Midwest. Libby Day is the only survivor after her family is brutally murdered in Kinnakee, Kansas, when she is seven years old. Well, the only survivor except for her older brother, who is imprisoned for the murder at fifteen after townsfolk find out he was part of a satanic cult. Growing up troubled, Libby has come to accept that her brother was responsible for the deaths of her family. When people from a secret group called the Kill Club contact her, determined to prove her brother’s innocence, Libby finds herself searching down a long and dangerous road for the truth about what really happened to her family. But the closer she gets to uncovering secrets, the closer she finds herself to someone who still wants her dead. Flynn takes readers around the heart of the Midwest from small towns in Missouri, to Kansas City, Oklahoma, Wichita, and even Salina making “Dark Places” really hit home.
- “The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides
Alicia Berenson murdered her husband and hasn’t spoken a word since. This is after everyone assumed they lived a perfect life: she, a successful painter and him a high-fashion photographer, living in a beautiful home in London. So when she brutally shoots her husband multiple times and doesn’t speak another word, she more easily gets a plea of diminished responsibility and is admitted into a forensic unit called the Grove. The scandal has skyrocketed Alicia to extraordinary fame and her art becomes exceedingly popular and expensive. As her notoriety continues to surge, criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber is excited when he finally gets the change to work with her. But in his search for answers and attempting to understand Alicia’s complexity, will he let his question for the truth consume him?
- “Misery” by Stephen King
Ahh: a secluded cabin tucked away in the mountains of Colorado. Sounds like a dream escape for most people, especially writers who need a getaway to clear all the writer’s block. This dreamy seclusion turns into a nightmare for famed author Paul Sheldon in Stephen King’s “Misery.” After impulsively deciding to drive to L.A. instead of flying, Paul gets in a car accident in the snowy mountains of Colorado, breaking both of his legs. Found by crazed fan, Annie Wilkes, he becomes her prisoner in her isolated home as she nurses him back to health. Annie is obsessed with Paul’s romance series featuring the character Misery Chastain. But when Annie learns that Misery is to be killed off in the final installment, she begins torturing Paul while simultaneously depriving him of food, water and pain medicine until he writes an ending to the series that pleases her. The situation only escalates the longer Paul is held captive and worsens after he learns of even darker acts committed by Annie. Desperate, Paul knows that keeping his character Misery alive is the key to his own survival.
- “Station Eleven” by Emily. St. John Mandel
Based in the wasteland of what’s left of civilization after a deadly pandemic ravages society, I figured we all might think “Station Eleven” is a little more hair-raising after living through 2020. As “Station Eleven” shifts between the time leading up to the collapse and twenty years after, it simultaneously pulls readers through the feeling of overwhelming dread of knowing what’s to come and the sometimes bleak reality the characters face in the new world. The story follows a Hollywood actor and his rise to fame in the time before the pandemic, the Georgia Flu, while fast forwarding in time to also follow an actress with a nomadic group called the Traveling Symphony. After an encounter with a religious group and their dark leader known only as the Prophet, members of the Traveling Symphony begin to disappear and readers slowly begin to learn how all of the characters from the time after the collapse weave together with those before.
- “A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning” by Lemony Snicket
Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series is beloved while all at once being eerie and strange. Violet Baudelaire, who is fourteen, Klaus, twelve, and their baby sister Sunny, are orphans after tragically losing their parents in a fire that also destroys their home. After the tragedy, they are sent to live with Count Olaf, who is said to be a distant relative but whom they’ve never heard of. Arriving upon Olaf’s house, they are unnerved when they find it in disarray and learn that Olaf is rude and nasty. As if the Baudelaire’s luck couldn’t seem to get any worse, they discover that Count Olaf is devising a plot to steal their inheritance. But the three siblings are just as cunning and are determined to outsmart the count at every turn. It’s too bad their unluckiness and Count Olaf follow them through all thirteen of the series’ novels. Read this Gothic series and watch the 2004 film or the Netflix series this Halloween!
- “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James
During the Victorian Era, it was common to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve before Halloween became popular and that’s exactly how “The Turn of the Screw” begins. Written in 1898, this novella opens on Christmas Eve as an unnamed narrator listens to a friend named Douglas read the manuscript of a governess he once knew but has since died. She tells of how she went to work at a country estate, known as Bly, outside of London as the ward of two young children, Miles and Flora. Left under the care of their uncle after their parents death, Miles and Flora’s uncle wants little to do with them and leaves them under the full care of the governess with the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, nearby. The governess soon becomes enamored with the children while simultaneously finding them shrouded in mystery. It’s only after she begins seeing ghostly figures of a man and woman that events take a peculiar turn. An anthology series created by Netflix, started it’s first season with “The Haunting of Hill House” based off the novel of the same name by Shirly Jackson and is following up with season two titled “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” their take on James’ “The Turn of the Screw.” Definitely cozy up to watch this season, out this month!
- “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson
If there’s ever a chance to talk about spine-tingling literature, I’m always going to bring up Shirley Jackson. Last Halloween, I wrote about her novel “The Haunting of Hill House” and how it had regained popularity thanks to the popular Netflix series. This year, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is a must-discuss novel. Mary Katherine (Merricat) Blackwood lives in the large house, isolated but not far from a village, with her sister Constance and their ailing, wheelchair bound Uncle Julian. Six years earlier, the young Blackwood’s parents, younger brother, and aunt were murdered with poison at dinner. Julian survived and Constance was accused of murder and later acquitted, while Merricat had been sent to her room with no dinner as a punishment. Now ostracized by the villagers, Merricat becomes the only member of the family to make appearances in town for groceries and books. But when an estranged cousin comes to visit, maybe he’ll be able to finally air the family’s dirty laundry. For true fans of the macabre, this is definitely the story for you!
- “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote
Maybe you can remember a time in which small town America meant your kids safely roaming the streets and leaving your front door unlocked at night. That all changed after the gruesome murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959. Using journalistic skill, Truman Capote takes readers through the events of that horrid November 1959 night, the difficult investigation, the capture of the criminals, their trial, and even their execution. A senseless act of crime committed by Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock with few clues and even fewer answers, the deaths of the Clutter family shook small town America to its core. With gothic elements, “In Cold Blood” is for those who want the murder mystery facts laid out for them in an powerful way. Remember to lock your doors, folks.
- “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie
Mystery mastermind, Agatha Christie, claimed that “And Then There Were None” was the most difficult of her books to write. Ten strangers arrive on an island off the coast of Devon but their host, a millionaire that none of them have met, is nowhere to be found. The guests soon realize that each of them have the same nursery rhyme hanging in their room: a rhyme about ten little boys and how each is killed off one by one. They merely find the situation odd until murder is committed. The strangers, each with a dark past, eventually learn that they have been marked for murder and the killings correlate with those in the rhyme. They begin to question each other and who is responsible for these ghastly acts. But the real question is, will they learn the truth before there is no one left?
- “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde
What lengths would you go to for everlasting youth and beauty? Dorian Gray is handsome and he knows it. As the muse for artist Basil Hallward, Dorian sits for one of his portraits and converses with Basil and Lord Henry Wotton about the pleasures of life. In doing so, he comes to believe that youth and beauty are really the only things worth having and decides to make a sort of faustian bargain: Dorian trades his soul so that the portrait will age and fade away while he remains eternally youthful. Enamored with his own beauty, Dorian’s vanity causes him to lead an immoral life full of wanton acts and often wreaking havoc for those who become involved with him. All the while Dorian remains unchanged yet his portrait reflects not only his aging but also the many sins he commits. Is Dorian capable of relinquishing his narcissism or will he let it eventually consume him? As Oscar Wilde’s most acclaimed work, this gothic novel is full of suspense, making it the perfect Halloween read.
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