Spooky (But Not Scary) Books

This is the world's best-selling mystery—and when I found out the audio version was read by Dan Stevens, I couldn't resist. (Loved it.) Ten strangers are lured to a deserted island, and then they begin dying, one by one, victims of a disturbingly wide range of murders. They share one thing in common: each has something in their past they would prefer to keep hidden. Who is the murderer, and will any of them survive?
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Kit and Laura first came together because of a common obsession: they're eclipse chasers, who travel the world to experience solar eclipses firsthand. The story opens when the two are married, expecting their first children (twins!), and taking pains to keep any trace of their existence off the internet. We soon learn this is because of an event they witnessed at an eclipse festival in 1999, which, along with the subsequent trial, had devastating consequences for all involved, consequences that still endanger them today—and we're about to find out just how much. A fabulous psychological thriller. Publication date: June 27.
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This 1930s Gothic classic is an un-put-down-able, curl-up-by-the-fire mystery. Don't be put off by its age: this thrilling novel feels surprisingly current. Suspenseful but not scary, and it holds its tension on a re-reading: a sure sign of a well-crafted thriller.
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Raybourn writes historical fiction with a twist; she's best known for her Lady Julia Grey mysteries. This is her first novel in a new Victorian series featuring the badass but well-bred Veronica Speedwell. I heard the author speak about her source material for this new series in Raleigh, and I was intrigued: her heroine travels the world hunting beautiful butterfly specimens and the occasional romantic dalliance. When her guardian dies, the orphaned Veronica expects to embark on a grand scientific adventure. But Veronica quickly realizes that with her guardian's death, she is no longer safe—and she begins to unravel the mystery of why she poses a threat to dangerous men. An easy, enjoyable read.
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From the publisher: "Mary Shelley's timeless gothic novel, an epic battle between man and monster at its greatest literary pitch. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor to the very brink of madness. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship, scientific hubris, and horror." (Take note: Audible exclusive is read by Dan Stevens.)
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Just because it’s assigned reading in high school doesn’t mean this isn’t a great book. This groundbreaking classic is a Gothic romance, mystery, and psychological thriller all rolled into one. You’ll be kicking yourself for not reading it decades sooner.
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I read this as my "book you can finish in a day" for the 2016 Reading Challenge. As expected, it's not exactly scary, but Jackson is sure good at infusing a story with a creepy atmosphere. In this work, her last completed novel before her death, she tells the story of the Blackwood family. Not so long ago there were seven Blackwoods, but four of them dropped dead from arsenic poisoning several years ago and how that happened remains a mystery. Read this during daylight hours: its themes of family secrets, hateful neighbors, and mysterious deaths aren't the stuff of bedtime reading.
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I loved this so much I included it in the 2018 Summer Reading Guide. Alice and her mom have spent 17 years on the run, trying to dodge the persistent bad luck mysteriously connected to an unnerving book of stories penned by Alice's estranged grandmother. When Alice's grandmother dies, her mother thinks they're free—until the day Alice comes home from school to discover Ella has been kidnapped, leaving behind a page torn from her grandmother's book and a note: Stay away from the Hazel Wood. But Alice has to save her mom, so she enters what she slowly begins to see is her grandmother's book of stories-come-to-life—and they suddenly look a lot more like horror than fantasy. This seriously twisted and sometimes bloody fairy tale reminds me of The Thirteenth Tale, with a dash of The Matrix.
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8 great series for your summer reading list | Modern Mrs Darcy Let me begin by saying some of you will hate this series. But some of you will love it, so: the first 3 books--beginning with Glittering Images--take place in the Church of England in the early 1930s. The latter 3 take place in the 1960s. Each book stands on its own, and each is narrated by a different character. While This is a gritty series--for Christian fiction, at least.
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From the San Francisco Chronicle: 'There is no simpler, yet deeper, stylist than Bradbury. Out of the plainest of words he creates images and moods that readers seem to carry with them forever."
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When I posted a picture of Emily St. John Mandel's third novel, The Lola Quartet, on Instagram this summer, literally dozens of readers messaged me and said some version of the following: "I'm so excited that Emily St. John Mandel has a new book coming out. I loved her first book, Station Eleven. How long do I have to wait to read this next one?" (Mandel does have a new book in the works. The Glass Hotel is expected in 2019, and I, for one, cannot wait to read it. But your responses made me realize that not enough readers know about her other books.) The Singer's Gun was Emily St. John Mandel's second novel, published in 2010. In fact, St. John Mandel said she wrote Station Eleven in a deliberately different genre, because she was afraid of getting pigeonholed as a crime writer. Mandel handles deceit and deception really well. In The Singer's Gun Anton Walker has walked away from the family business of false documents, when his cousin ropes him back for just one more job with a bit of blackmail (his final act of forgery was the Harvard diploma that hangs on his office wall). Anton is stuck between his new simple life, outfitted with apartment, fiancée, and an Italian honeymoon on the horizon, and what he hopes will be an easy price for his promised freedom. He counts the cost, and makes his decision. And that's when things get really interesting.
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Welcome to the "ideal" future, where a perfect society embraces Sameness. But something sinister lurks beneath the surface of this tightly controlled community. At a much-anticipated ceremony, the resident twelve-year-olds are sorted into vocational assignments, Harry Potter-style. Jonas is skipped over, and the Chief Elder soon reveals why: instead of receiving a typical assignment, Jonas has been chosen to be the next receiver of memory. When he begins his training with the old man known as The Giver, he discovers books, colors, snow, and love—and he begins to understand what his people lost when they gave away their memories. The star-studded lineup for the movie includes Jeff Bridges, Taylor Swift, Katie Holmes, and Meryl Streep. Coming to theaters August 15.
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Jane Eyre lovers, you can relax: while Faye—and her heroine, Jane Steele—draw serious inspiration from Jane Eyre, It draws serious inspiration from Brontë's classic, it's not a retelling. Instead, it's delightfully meta: our titular narrator tells us the inspiration to write down her story came from "the most riveting book titled Jane Eyre." This Jane is a wise-cracking, whipsmart, unconventional young woman who rebels against Victorian convention, but she has a heart of gold. Though not a retelling, there are numerous winks to the original novel: Jane becomes a governess, there's a stand-in for Mr. Rochester, and of course, something important is locked away in an attic. Perfect for readers who love plucky Victorian heroines, like you'd find in Deanna Raybourn novels. Published March 22 2016.
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In Strawser’s new domestic suspense, a tight-knit group of women gather around the backyard firepit, drink a little too much wine, and stay up way too late. By morning, one of them has vanished, and so have her children. As the authorities (and the women) begin to investigate what might have happened, they find they have more questions than answers, and the husband’s suspicious behavior has them all looking over their shoulders. Did their friend simply run away, or was she harmed, and above all—why? This would make an excellent companion to I'll Be Your Blue Sky.
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From the publisher: "O'Connor published her first story when she was working on her master's degree at the University of Iowa. Arranged chronologically, this collection shows that her last story, "Judgement Day"--sent to her publisher shortly before her death—is a brilliantly rewritten and transfigured version of "The Geranium." Taken together, these stories reveal a lively, penetrating talent that has given us some of the most powerful and disturbing fiction of the twentieth century. Also included is an introduction by O'Connor's longtime editor and friend, Robert Giroux."
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If you've read Anne or Emily, you know they have their creepy moments ... but when you gather these nineteen Montgomery stories together, you end up with a collection that feels quite different from anything else she wrote, ranging from the strange to the supernatural to the genuinely spine-tingling. If you're in the mood for a gentle ghostly story, this collection is for you.
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It’s no coincidence there are two Tana French books on this list: she writes a great book club novel. This is her first book in the Dublin Murder Squad, and it’s seriously disturbing. But if your book club can stomach it, you can talk about psychopaths and supernatural disturbances. Book club highlight: the ending.
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From the publisher: "#1 New York Times bestselling author Louse Penny's beloved Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery novels have received critical acclaim, won numerous awards, and have enthralled millions of readers. Featuring Chief Inspector of Homicide Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec."
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One of the Spooky (but Not Too Scary) books, although if "terrifying" is in the subtitle, perhaps this one goes beyond merely "spooky"? In this nonfiction thriller, Preston details the emergence of the ebola virus in a pageturning, day-by-day, truth-is-scarier-than-fiction account, starting with the initial discovery of the virus in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, and tracing its origin back to the central African rain forest.
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Publisher's description: "A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island. A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy. A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive. A revolution. An accident. A secret. Lies upon lies. True love. The truth. <em>We Were Liars</em> is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from <em>New York Times</em> bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE."
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I talked about this creepy classic recently with WSIRN guest Scott Flanary on episode 122 of What Should I Read Next?. From the publisher: "In 1984, London is a grim city where Big Brother is always watching you and the Thought Police can practically read your mind. Winston is a man in grave danger for the simple reason that his memory still functions. Drawn into a forbidden love affair, Winston finds the courage to join a secret revolutionary organization called The Brotherhood, dedicated to the destruction of the Party. 1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell's prophetic, nightmare vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever."
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This groundbreaking classic was downright scandalous in its day—and it hasn’t lost much of its shock value in the intervening 160+ years. Heathcliff is every bit as much the abominable scoundrel now as he was then, and the English moors are every bit as creepy. Read it once, and decide whether you love it or hate it. (And if you do both, you’re in good company.)
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This is a wonderful opportunity to knock another classic off your reading list. This Henry James classic is narrated by Emma Thompson (of Sense and Sensibility fame) and introduced by Richard Armitage (aka Mr. Thornton). Rory Gilmore would be proud.
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I blew through this novel from my YA summer reading list over the weekend, even though it's almost 400 pages. If you loved Eleanor & Park, read this next. It's not a read-alike, but it has enough in common with E&P to make it a safe bet. One of the best books I've read this year.
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This Gothic mystery is slow to build but those who persevere will be rewarded. The plot flips back and forth between World War II and the 1990s, but not in the way you'd expect. The setting is a crumbling old castle, which contributes to the story's creepy (but not quite scary) feel. Some readers think this is Morton's best work.
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From the publisher: "As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day."
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Billy Coffey's combination of lyrical style plus quirky characters has drawn comparisons to Flannery O'Connor and Shirley Jackson. This novel centers around Leah, a 9-year-old whose unusual gift—and even more unusual imaginary friend—divide the community she lives in.
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In this short Australian classic, a group of girls from the Appleyard College for Young Ladies venture out for a picnic at Hanging Rock on a beautiful afternoon. Three of the girls set out for a hike, and are never seen again. As I was reading this short novel, it strongly reminded me of something I'd read before, but I couldn't figure out WHAT. I finally realized it wasn't a book at all—it was the TV show Lost! (If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is.)
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This 2006 mystery, set firmly in the tradition of Gothic greats like Jane Eyre, kept me guessing from start to finish. The premise is intriguing (and you may find yourself a little bit envious of the narrator's bookish existence). A little dark and deliciously creepy, perfect for curling up with on a cold winter's day. Take note: a few unsettling scenes if you're a sensitive sort. (I am.)
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If you've never read Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch doesn't count), start here: this collection features more than 50 short stories and four novels: A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Valley of Fear. These masterful works still feel fresh and new, and hold up to repeated rereadings.
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