The best books to scare the bejesus out of you

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by ghosts and the unexplained ever since I was a small child, we would have copies of the magazine The Unexplained on the shelf and I would pore over them for hours, looking at old ghost photos and reading stories that blew my mind. My fascination has never waned, I have grown up reading books by amazing classic writers and then more recently to the contemporary writers who were inspired by them. Is there anything more enticing than a haunting? All of this has fascinated me since I was a child, and these books all have their own take on this theme.


I wrote...

Purgatory Hotel

By Anne-Marie Ormsby,

Book cover of Purgatory Hotel

What is my book about?

Dakota Crow has been murdered, her body dumped in a lonely part of the woods, and nobody knows but her and her killer. Stranded in Purgatory, a rotting hotel on the edge of forever, with no memory of her death, Dakota knows she must have done something bad to be stuck among murderers and rapists. To get somewhere safer, she must avoid the shadowy stranger stalking her through the corridors of the hotel and find out how to repent for her sins.

First, she must re-live her life. She will learn about her double life, a damaging love affair, terrible secrets, and lies that led to her violent death. Dakota must face her own demons and make amends for her own crimes before she can solve her murder and move on.

The books I picked & why

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The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson,

Book cover of The Haunting of Hill House

Why this book?

I confess I saw the 1963 movie with Julie Harris when I was a teenager before I read the book, but the book is as usual better than any film version that has been made. The appeal for me definitely comes down to the standard haunted house trope – my favourite basis for any scary story. Shirley Jackson uses a buildup of fear rather than horror to get a response from the reader which I think is far more effective. The story centres around a group of people staying at Hill House to investigate possible paranormal activity, and the creepy late-night goings on are excellently placed to make the reader feel very on edge. I particularly liked the use of characters with very different personalities to illustrate how different people react to fear.

The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson,

Why should I read it?

25 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…

A Head Full of Ghosts

By Paul Tremblay,

Book cover of A Head Full of Ghosts

Why this book?

I hadn’t read any new fiction in a while when I got this book, and it managed to creep me out so much I had weird dreams. It has a retro horror movie vibe like The Exorcist or Poltergeist but manages to be even more frightening. Its power is that you are always unsure of what is fact and what is fantasy as the main character recounts a family trauma from her childhood and the lines between mental illness and demonic possession are blurred. The examination of family and how it affects people and their relationships is a strong base for some pretty terrifying moments!

A Head Full of Ghosts

By Paul Tremblay,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked A Head Full of Ghosts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The lives of the Barretts, a suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia. To her parents' despair, the doctors are unable to halt Marjorie's descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show.Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie's younger sister, Merry. As she recalls the terrifying events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets…

The Turn of the Screw

By Henry James,

Book cover of The Turn of the Screw

Why this book?

I am fond of gothic literature, so I have no idea why I only read this about five years ago, it's an absolute cracker of a ghost story! Told as a story around a fireplace, the narrator relates a story about a governess who goes to work at Bly Manor, a beautiful mansion in Essex (my home county!), taking care of two small children. Not long after her arrival she sees the ghosts of two people and soon realizes the children can see and possibly communicate with them too. Again a story that relies on fear and the build up of tension rather than horror. This was adapted for Netflix as The Haunting of Bly Manor which elaborated on the original story without taking away from the novel.

The Turn of the Screw

By Henry James,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Turn of the Screw as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A most wonderful, lurid, poisonous little tale' Oscar Wilde

The Turn of the Screw, James's great masterpiece of haunting atmosphere and unbearable tension, tells of a young governess sent to a country house to take charge of two orphans, Miles and Flora. Unsettled by a dark foreboding of menace within the house, she soon comes to believe that something, or someone, malevolent is stalking the children in her care. Is the threat to her young charges really a malign and ghostly presence, or a manifestation of something else entirely?

Edited and with an Introduction and Notes by David Bromwich
Series…


The Woman in Black

By Susan Hill,

Book cover of The Woman in Black

Why this book?

I saw the tv adaptation with my mum and dad on Christmas Eve 1989 and it scared the socks off us all. My love of the story is tied into family time and the love of books and movies I shared with my Dad. The movie adaptations and stage play have set this book as a modern classic but Hill has a way of writing that is truly unnerving. A young lawyer dealing with probate for a recently deceased client leads to creeping sense of dread, an old house, and a very angry ghost. Again there is a back story which pulls at the threads of what we all know of family and of loss so makes it something we can all relate to, which in turn makes it all the more frightening.

The Woman in Black

By Susan Hill,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Woman in Black as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic ghost story from the author of The Mist in the Mirror: a chilling tale about a menacing spectre haunting a small English town.
 
Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford—a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway—to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow’s house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip…

The Only Good Indians

By Stephen Graham Jones,

Book cover of The Only Good Indians

Why this book?

They say never judge a book by its cover, but I was drawn by the elk illustrated cover and the blurb. You are taken on a very authentic cultural journey by Jones as he invites the reader into the Native American world and shows how tradition and contemporary life come together. While it is a true literary gem it is also a bona fide horror dripping with non-gratuitous gore and menace as a group of young men are hunted by something otherworldly, haunted by an event from their youth. I was very taken by the Native American spirituality when I became interested in it as a teenager, this book was both frightening and enlightening.

The Only Good Indians

By Stephen Graham Jones,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Only Good Indians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Thrilling, literate, scary, immersive."
-Stephen King

The Stoker, Mark Twain American Voice in Literature, Bradbury, Locus and Alex Award-winning, NYT-bestselling gothic horror about cultural identity, the price of tradition and revenge for fans of Adam Nevill's The Ritual.

Ricky, Gabe, Lewis and Cassidy are men bound to their heritage, bound by society, and trapped in the endless expanses of the landscape. Now, ten years after a fateful elk hunt, which remains a closely guarded secret between them, these men - and their children - must face a ferocious spirit that is coming for them, one at a time. A spirit…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in ghost story, paranoia, and haunted houses?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about ghost story, paranoia, and haunted houses.

Ghost Story Explore 109 books about ghost story
Paranoia Explore 27 books about paranoia
Haunted Houses Explore 50 books about haunted houses

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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