The Terrifying Books That Scared These 15 Thriller, Horror, And True Crime Authors
With Us and Pet Sematary blowing up theaters, everyone has horror on the brain right now. If you're in search of a deliciously chilling novel to add to your TBR, look no further, because I've got 12 different scary book recommendations from 15 horror, thriller, and true crime authors (a.k.a. the experts) for you to discover below!
If there's one thing every book-lover should know, it's that horror novels aren't just for Halloween or the month of October. Scary stories are great for the winter, summer, and even the spring, because everyone could all use a good spine-tingle every so often. Even if you aren't in the mood for a tale of supernatural horror, an edge-of-your-seat mystery can bring you a much-needed dose of suspense, any time of the year.
The 15 horror and thriller authors who sent scary book recommendations to Bustle via email have made you a laundry list of great reads — a few of these books are so scary, they were recommended by more than one author. Check out what they had to say about their favorite frightening novels below, and be sure to take a glance at the new books they have available for pre-order and purchase today.
'A Double Life' author Flynn Berry recommends 'Bad Dreams' by Tessa Hadley
"Tessa Hadley is the master at creating a sense of dread, even if nothing particularly sinister seems to be happening on the surface. In her story 'An Abduction,' a teenage girl is abducted, sort of, by three charming Oxford students. After shoplifting some food and wine, they bring her to a beautiful modern house with a swimming pool. The story keeps shifting, becoming completely different than you'd expected, but somehow even more disturbing."
'Suspicious Minds' author Gwenda Bond recommends 'The Mist' by Stephen King
"I love being scared by fiction and film, though it's moderately hard to pull off now because I love it. Which is funny, because as a child I was so susceptible to the slightest suggestion of things that go bump in the night and monsters under the bed. I was banned from watching scary movies after a month-long stint staying up all night in bed reading, convinced monsters might come through the chimney at the end of the hallway, and going to sleep only once it was daylight out. I'm sure I won't be alone in choosing a Stephen King book, but I might be alone in choosing his novella, 'The Mist.' It's because I still vividly recall reading it — I stole my brother's copy of Skeleton Crew — and being completely scared by how true it felt to something that might happen in my own tiny, far-from-Maine town. I could imagine the religious fervor of someone trapped in the supermarket becoming almost as frightening as the largely unseen, but terrifying monsters outside in the title's mist. And then that ending, driving out into the literally hazy future. Still gives me chills to think about."
'The Hunger' author Alma Katsu recommends 'The Little Stranger' by Sarah Waters
"The scariest book I’ve ever read… It depends on what one finds scary, don’t you think? I find monsters more poignant than frightening, for instance. But I love a story that gives you pause, that makes you think that all that talk about ghosties and goblins might actually be true. There are many wonderful tales in this vein but the one I keep coming back to is The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. It’s a haunted house story, a trope where it’s hard to come up with something new but Waters managed to pull it off. The novel is set at the time when the British landed class was in decline, being overtaken by the working class, and isn’t that what a ghost story is: the present being haunted by the past it has displaced?"
'A Deadly Divide' author Ausma Zehanat Khan recommends 'Dialogues of the Dead' by Reginald Hill
"The scariest thriller I’ve ever read is Dialogues of the Dead by the late, great Reginald Hill. In the 19th installment in Hill’s Dalziel/Pascoe crime series, the master is at the top of his game, expertly toying with his readers. The novel’s creeping horror emerges as a serial killer terrorizes a small community by mailing in 'dialogues' to a local writing competition. The catch? The dialogues are about the murders the writer is committing. Full of classical allusions and inventive wordplay, the letters offer clues to the next murder on the killer’s list. I wasn’t expecting this brilliantly literary novel to build to such a terrifying conclusion. My heart nearly stopped during the pulse-pounding climax where the killer was unmasked."
'The Last Supper Before Ragnarok' author Cassandra Khaw recommends 'The Twisted Ones' by Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher
"Ursula Vernon's [written under the pseudonym T. Kingfisher] The Twisted Ones, which is coming out soon, is remarkable in that it managed to achieve a jump scare while being a book. This is, I might add, the first book that has made me go 'AH!' and chuck my Kindle away from you, suspicious of both the content and the fact it made me went 'ah.' I think a lot of it is tethered to Vernon's conversational prose, the way she builds up characters and friendships, ties people together into this beautiful landscape of interactions where everything feels familiar, everything feels like a life you'd led and know as intimately as your own routine. Then, Vernon stitches that discomfort into the everyday, builds on it, grows it, lets you sink into that nervousness that comes when you're not sure about what's outside of a still-alien door. Every one of us, we've always been afraid of home invaders and The Twisted Ones knows it. The Twisted Ones grows that unease until at last, it has thirtysomething horror writer squeaking at her Kindle and tossing it across the room."
'The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan' author Caitlín R. Kiernan recommends 'House of Leaves' by Mark Z. Danielewski
"It's a novel that's brilliant on so many levels, one of which is it's comprehension of humanity's fear of the darkness and of unknown spaces, our collective horror of what cannot be quantified and mapped and classified. It's really the ultimate 'haunted' house story, one that has no need of actual, literal ghosts."
'Miracle Creek' author Angie Kim recommends 'Carrie' by Stephen King
"This book didn’t scare me because it was scary (although it was). It scared me because of how much I empathized with and rooted for Carrie. I read this book in middle school, about a year after immigrating to the US. I understood English but still couldn’t speak it well, meaning that I was starting to understand that kids were making fun of me — of my accent, my weird clothes, my cluelessness. I burned reading about the mean kids’ bullying of Carrie, and when she decided to use her telekinetic powers to exact revenge on them, I whooped for her. As she grew out of control and caused explosions and fires that ended up destroying not only the school but the entire town, I was horrified not only by what was happening on the page, but by my initial approval of her actions, the intensity of my humiliation at being the square outcast."
'The Favorite Sister' author Jessica Knoll recommends 'The Little Stranger' by Sarah Waters
"A few years ago, I had a winter trip planned to London and wanted to read something spooky and gothic to complement the setting. I packed The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters — Stephen King warned it would cause 'several sleepless nights' — thinking it would be fun to curl up in bed on a foggy London night reading about a crumbling and possibly haunted mansion in postwar England. If your version of fun includes being so scared that you have to ask your husband to sit in the bathroom with you while you shower (mine does!), then I can’t recommend this novel enough."
'Middlegame' author Seanan McGuire recommends 'The Twisted Ones' by Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher
"The scariest book I've ever read — or at least the scariest book I can think of right now — is The Twisted Ones, by T. Kingfisher. I literally stopped at one point, said 'Oh' aloud, and had to flee from the book, because otherwise it could see me, I guess? I'm not really sure what my logic was there. It scared the pants off of me. It's a brilliant piece. The pitch was 'The Blair Witch Project meets The Andy Griffith Show,' and it lives up to that level of promise."
'The Invited' author Jennifer McMahon recommends 'The Amityville Horror' by Jay Anson
"I snuck this book off my mother’s shelves (where I got all the best books — the ones I wasn’t supposed to be reading) when I was about 10 years old. I had never read anything like it. The horror was amped up for little 10-year-old me because it was Based on a True Story — I believed every word was non-fiction. It still gives me the crawling creeps to think about: the Red Room, the flies (oh my god, the flies!), Jodie the pig. I had nightmares about all of it, but I couldn’t get enough. I spent hours in our basement tapping on walls, looking for a secret room. I read my favorite, most terrifying passages out loud to friends at sleepovers, which inevitably ended with all of us too scared to sleep, every light in the house blazing. I think it’s fair to say that The Amityville Horror was the beginning of my love for scary fiction — or 'true stories,' as the case may be!"
'The Runaway' author Hollie Overton recommends 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy
"The Road is still one my favorite scary books. It's not often where scenes are so disturbing you have to hide the book under the bed, but that's what I did. Cormac McCarthy creates such a chilling portrayal of what happens to a father and son when civilization is threatened. The desperation and despair leap off the page. Though there are truly sinister and terrible things that occur throughout, the real scares come from imagining how you would survive life at the end of the world and what lengths you would go to in order to save the people you love."
'The Poison Thread' author Laura Purcell recommends 'The Wise Woman' by Philippa Gregory
"I have never been more disturbed and horrified by a book. It probably didn't help that I was staying in a creepy Tudor mansion while I read it. The story is a wild ride of witchcraft, body horror, eroticism and spiritual peril. You will finish it feeling like you have come through an ordeal!"
'The Trial of Lizzie Borden' author Cara Robertson recommends "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson
“The sense of dread builds and becomes almost unbearable as the reader realizes there is something dark underlying the ordinary gathering in the otherwise unremarkable town.”
'The Haunted' author Danielle Vega recommends 'House of Leaves' by Mark Z. Danielewski
"The concept behind House of Leaves is pretty basic: it's about a house that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. And if you think that doesn't sound scary enough JUST WAIT. By the time you finish the book, you'll be obsessively measuring every room in your house, and probably losing your mind. The chapter on echoes was so freaky that I couldn't sleep after I read it. For extra points, listen to Poe's companion album Haunted while you make your way through the book."
'American Spy' author Lauren Wilkinson recommends 'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark' by Alvin Schwartz
"The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series by Alvin Schwartz must've terrified hundreds of thousands of kids in the early '90s, and I was definitely one of them. A huge part of what was so frightening were Stephen Gammell's haunting illustrations. Plus, the stories themselves were full of ghosts, and corpses and monsters creeping up on you in the dark — just the kind of stuff that made my imagination run wild. Because the things that scare you when you're a kid have a bigger impact than anything that scares you as an adult, those are the most frightening books I've ever read, without question."