The best books in which things take a nasty turn

Who am I?

I find uncomfortable stories comforting. I love fiction that explores eeriness, uncanniness, awkwardness; I love reading it and writing it. I recently published an essay – in Writing the Uncanny: Essays on Crafting Strange Fiction – about the connection between emotional disturbance and the uncanny, focusing on Shirley Jackson’s life and work as well as my own experience of donating a kidney and the pleasure of writing a horror novelette about it. In my most recent novel, a character reads stories ‘in which things take a nasty turn,’ which could describe a number of my own novels and short stories, as well as the five fantastic books I’m going to recommend here.


I wrote...

The Lighthouse

By Alison Moore,

Book cover of The Lighthouse

What is my book about?

Futh, middle-aged and raw from the break-up of his marriage, is embarking on a restorative walking holiday in Germany. He spends his first night at the Hellhaus hotel, where he encounters Ester and her volatile husband Bernard, who treats him with inexplicable hostility. Futh sets out on a week-long walk along the Rhine, contemplating his boyhood abandonment by his mother as well as his relationship with his now-estranged wife. Returning to Hellhaus, he is oblivious to the potentially devastating consequences of the things he has done and the things he has not done, of his actions and his inaction, and is unprepared for what awaits him. 

The Lighthouse tells the tense, gripping story of a man trying to find himself, but becoming lost.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson,

Book cover of The Haunting of Hill House

Why did I love this book?

I’ve loved Shirley Jackson’s work ever since I heard her reading her shocking short story "The Lottery". Her most famous novel, The Haunting of Hill House, is not only a chilling haunted-house story, it also movingly captures the complex dynamic between the house and Eleanor Vance, who has ‘no one to love’ and has ‘never been wanted anywhere.’ Recruited to take part in a group investigation into supernatural manifestations, Eleanor arrives at Hill House, where she feels wanted and included and ‘unbelievably happy.’ But Hill House, gloriously vile, is ‘a place of despair,’ and Jackson has a genius for writing about rejection and exclusion. Every time I read or write about this classic novel I find something new, and its ambiguity makes it very satisfying to discuss.

By Shirley Jackson,

Why should I read it?

27 authors picked The Haunting of Hill House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part of a new six-volume series of the best in classic horror, selected by Academy Award-winning director of The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro

Filmmaker and longtime horror literature fan Guillermo del Toro serves as the curator for the Penguin Horror series, a new collection of classic tales and poems by masters of the genre. Included here are some of del Toro's favorites, from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Ray Russell's short story "Sardonicus," considered by Stephen King to be "perhaps the finest example of the modern Gothic ever written," to Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and stories…


Misery

By Stephen King,

Book cover of Misery

Why did I love this book?

My favourite Stephen King novels feature a writer and his intentions pitted against some malevolent force: a literary fiction writer versus his horror-writer alter ego in The Dark Half; Jack Torrance hoping to write a play in a haunted hotel in The Shining; and Paul Sheldon who has written his final romance novel, killing off his heroine in the process, and must now face the wrath of his ‘number one fan’ in Misery. It’s a great horror story, an oppressive nightmare, and the character of Annie Wilkes is awesome, but King has also written eloquently about how Paul’s resourcefulness and efforts to save his life by playing Scheherazade ‘gave me a chance to say some things about the redemptive power of writing that I had long felt but never articulated.’

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Misery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the exciting build-up to publication of Stephen King's new mainstream novel, LISEY'S STORY, enjoy this world-famous classic novel on audio.


Rosemary's Baby

By Ira Levin,

Book cover of Rosemary's Baby

Why did I love this book?

I usually like to read a book before watching an adaptation, but with Rosemary’s Baby I’d already seen the iconic film so the novel, by Ira Levin, had a lot to live up to. It’s a masterpiece, as flawlessly crafted and vivid as the film. The Woodhouses, a young married couple, move into the Bramford, a desirable ‘old, black, and elephantine’ New York apartment building with an unpleasant reputation. Guy takes a shine to their elderly neighbours but Rosemary finds them overfriendly. As the neighbours become increasingly intrusive and Guy’s behaviour begins to trouble Rosemary, she falls pregnant. When I wrote my horror novelette and needed a suitable (or unsuitable) story for a woman to be reading in hospital, it was this anxious and quietly terrifying novel that I chose.

By Ira Levin,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Rosemary's Baby as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The Swiss watchmaker of the suspense novel' Stephen King

Rosemary Woodhouse and her struggling actor-husband, Guy, move into the Bramford, an old New York City apartment building with an ominous reputation and only elderly residents. Neighbours Roman and Minnie Castavet soon come nosing around to welcome them; despite Rosemary's reservations about their eccentricity and the weird noises that she keeps hearing, her husband starts spending time with them. Shortly after Guy lands a plum Broadway role, Rosemary becomes pregnant, and the Castavets start taking a special interest in her welfare.

As the sickened Rosemary becomes increasingly isolated, she begins to…


The Paying Guests

By Sarah Waters,

Book cover of The Paying Guests

Why did I love this book?

I had the pleasure of hearing Sarah Waters speak at the Derby Book Festival in 2015, bought a signed copy of her latest novel, and have been recommending it ever since. The Paying Guests is set in the wake of World War I, and the historical context is beautifully rendered. Frances Wray and her mother have been living a quiet and orderly life on a street where the houses have ‘a Sunday blankness to them… every day of the week.’ It’s a life stuck in time, in a house whose ‘heart stopped… years ago.’ Then the Wrays’ new lodgers arrive, and they are noisy, gaudy, messy, dramatic, attractive. The two worlds collide with Frances caught between them, and what follows is both a captivating love story and a gripping crime story.

By Sarah Waters,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Paying Guests as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE WOMEN'S PRIZE

This novel from the internationally bestselling author of The Little Stranger, is a brilliant 'page-turning melodrama and a fascinating portrait of London of the verge of great change' (Guardian)

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

For with the arrival of…


Book cover of I'm the King of the Castle

Why did I love this book?

I have a soft (tender, bruised) spot for stories exploring childhood bullying, and Susan Hill’s I’m the King of the Castle is one of the best. I also love big creaky old houses, and here we have Warings, a big creaky Victorian house inherited by Joseph Hooper, who moves in with his son, Edmund. Joseph, a widower, brings into the household a housekeeper-cum-companion and her son, Charles Kingshaw. Edmund does not want to share ‘his’ house and lets Charles know he’s unwelcome, but the grown-ups insist that the boys, both ten years old, will be friends, and go on insisting that they are friends even as Edmund is persecuting Charles, making his life a misery. It’s a claustrophobic and compelling novel and the final lines are brilliant and memorably harrowing.

By Susan Hill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I'm the King of the Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

I'm the King of the Castle by Susan Hill is a chilling novel that explores the extremes of childhood cruelty, now published as a Penguin Essential for the first time.

'Some people are coming here today, now you will have a companion.'

But young Edmund Hooper doesn't want anyone else in Warings, the large and rambling Victorian house he shares with his widowed father. Nevertheless Charles Kingshaw and his mother are soon installed and Hooper sets about subtly persecuting the fearful new arrival.

In the woods, Charles fights back but he knows that his rival will always win the affections…


You might also like...

The Rosewood Penny

By J.S. Fields,

Book cover of The Rosewood Penny

J.S. Fields

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The dragons of Yuro have been hunted to extinction. 

On a small, isolated island, in a reclusive forest, lives bandit leader Marani and her brother Jacks. With their outlaw band, they rob the rich to feed themselves, raiding carriages and dodging the occasional vindictive pegasus. Thanks to Marani’s mysterious invulnerability, this mostly works out well…until Marani and her quirky band of outlaws plunder the carriage of the very bossy princess Nuria.

The princess’s carriage contains not just gold, but a dragonscale comb that belonged to Marani’s murdered mother. Worse yet, Princess Nuria seems to know exactly who Marani is, maybe more than Marani herself.

The Rosewood Penny

By J.S. Fields,

What is this book about?

The dragons of Yuro have been hunted to extinction.

On a small, isolated island, in a reclusive forest, lives bandit leader Marani and her brother Jacks. With their outlaw band they rob from the rich to feed themselves, raiding carriages and dodging the occasional vindictive pegasus. Thanks to Marani’s mysterious invulnerability, this mostly works out well…until Marani and her quirky band of outlaws plunder the carriage of the very bossy princess Nuria.

The princess’s carriage contains not just gold, but a dragonscale comb that belonged to Marani’s murdered mother. Worse yet, Princess Nuria seems to know exactly who Marani is,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in pregnancy, haunted houses, and murder?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about pregnancy, haunted houses, and murder.

Pregnancy Explore 99 books about pregnancy
Haunted Houses Explore 64 books about haunted houses
Murder Explore 828 books about murder