Not For the Faint of Heart

Horror stories can be chilling and also wickedly entertaining.  A crisp, autumn evening is the perfect time to share spine-tingling ghost stories around a crackling campfire. Author, Neil Gaiman, posits that scary ghost stories speak to us so strongly because “Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses. You ride the ghost train into the darkness, knowing that eventually the doors will open and you will step out into the daylight once again. It’s always reassuring to know that you’re still here, still safe. That nothing strange has happened, not really. It’s good to be a child again, for a little while, and to fear — not governments, not regulations, not infidelities or accountants or distant wars, but ghosts and such things that don’t exist, and even if they do, can do nothing to hurt us.”

Perfect for this time of year with Halloween right around the corner, below are some of my top scary books to read. These books are filled with terrifying stories guaranteed to haunt you long after you have finished reading them. My list includes books that are relatively new as well as an older book, a classic in the horror genre. Of course, all of the books are available for you to check out at any one of the branches of the Mercer County Library System.

Get ready for a scary adventure with Christopher Golden’s Ararat. Much like a roller coaster ride, this is a quick and thrilling read – a book you will be unable to put down until you have finished. The title refers to the mountain in Turkey, which documentary filmmakers and writers Adam Holzer and his fiancee Meryam Karga decide to explore. Their crew consists of international explorers, archeologists, priests and biblical scholars. Their plans go awry when the explorers discover the remains of a ship in a cave and, within it, a coffin with a cadaver; a deformed corpse with horns. To make matters worse, a blizzard traps this motley group of explorers inside the cave. Soon, some people start disappearing while some others behave as if they are possessed by some malevolent spirit. As per Kirkus reviews, “A thriller with an intellectual bent, Golden's latest effort ruminates on the nature and existence of good and evil while providing … chills and tingles….”

A controlling husband, a scared wife and a secretary, who gets involved with them both. Add to this mix unreliable narrators and you have this extremely eerie and disturbing book by British author, Sarah Pinborough. Behind Her Eyes is psychological thriller in the same vein as Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, but with twists that raises the creepiness to a new level. Single mom Louise is a part time secretary whose boss, David, is a psychiatrist who turns out to be the stranger she had met previously and kissed at a bar. Louise is befriended by David’s beautiful and fragile wife Adele and pretty soon life starts to get weird. Throughout the book there hovers an air of menace and foreboding and the unexpected ending is sure to throw you for a loop!

The Girl from Rawblood by Catriona Ward, a Gothic horror story reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s ghostly tales, is about cursed bloodlines and the horrors that ensue when warnings are ignored by the misguided heroes, or heroines, as is the case in this very frightening and well-written book. The last of the Villarca family are Iris and her father, Alonso, who live in Devon, England on their estate, Rawblood. The house is haunted by an evil ghost and Alonso and Iris live a secluded life. The reason for their isolation is the Villarcas curse, which forces Iris to remain alone and unmarried in order to save herself as well as others. Not only are the Villarcas doomed to a violent death if they ignore the curse, but anyone they befriend is also domed to suffer the same terrible fate. Ignoring her father’s warnings, Iris falls in love with their neighbor’s son Tom. Tom reveals the secret about a murdered girl buried in Rawblood, who might be haunting the house. Horrific consequences ensue as Iris realizes the folly of ignoring her father’s warnings. Ward writes beautifully and this haunting story, rich with atmosphere and unforgettable characters, should be on everyone’s must read list this October.

Teenage orphans, Nat and Ruth, live in the bizarre, Love of Christ! Foster Home, run by a fanatical man named Father Arthur. Nat and Ruth secretly conduct séances with the help of a spirit guide they call Mr. Splitfoot. For a fee, they conjure up the spirits of dead loved ones of the other troubled residents of the home. When a visiting salesman - who is really just a sinister con artist - discovers their act, he offers to become their agent and convinces Nat and Ruth to leave the foster home with him. Thus begins the journey of Nat and Ruth as they escape the Father and make their way in the outside world. Years later, a parallel journey occurs when Ruth helps her pregnant niece Cora escape her brutish boyfriend. Vividly told, Samantha Hunt’s, Mr. Splitfoot is the story of two journeys, told in alternate chapters. The journey of Nat and Ruth is written in the third-person, and the journey of Ruth and Cora is told in the first-person, by Cora. The author does a great job of building suspense and keeps the readers guessing until the very end, when the past and the present interweave and the truth is finally revealed.  A dark and ethereal book, this was also fun to read.

A classic, Shirley Jackson’s ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House was first published in 1959. I read the paperback edition a few years ago but re-read it recently for this blog and I was not disappointed. This haunted house story unfolds slowly, building on subtle atmospheric details, and is quietly terrifying. The titular house, seemingly ordinary, is known for being haunted. Dr.  Montague, a professor interested in the supernatural, decides to investigate. He is joined by the nephew of the owner of the house, Luke. Participants in this investigation also include Eleanor and Theodora, both of whom claim to have had some paranormal experiences. The eighty year old house is staffed by Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, caretakers who refuse to stay in the house at night. The house has a history of violent deaths and each of the four visitors have their own reasons for visiting. But what started out as a scientific investigation into the supernatural soon turns into something terrifying, as bizarre writings appear on the walls and ghosts roam the halls. Is it just the overworked imagination of the guests or is the house really haunted? Read it and find out.

-Rina B., West Windsor Branch


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