Deliciously Spooky Reads For Halloween

These are not exactly horror stories; there’s very little blood and guts. But each has whispers of the supernatural—just enough tingling of the spine and tickling of the imagination to make reading them in the dark a delicious thrill.

 

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Dracula by Bram Stoker

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I am freaked out by how much I love The Historian. It’s an old-fashioned, can’t-turn-the-pages-fast-enough swashbuckler told through letters, diary entries, postcards, and reminiscences. It combines history, romance, adventure, and an abiding love of books – and there are secrets among secrets among secrets. Deliciously mysterious! I’m not giving anything away by telling you that it centers around the legend of Vlad the Impaler and the Dracula myth (or is it?). Much of the action takes place in libraries and on trains… and the characters travel to mysterious locales – Turkey, Romania, Hungary – to determine if Vlad was really a vampire. The travel descriptions are so evocative, it makes me want to write lengthy letters home from a train somewhere with foreign accents.

The original Dracula makes a perfect two-fer with The Historian. It’s also a epistolary novel, and if you’ve only seen the many movie adaptations, you owe it to yourself to read the book that started it all.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Rad Bradbury

circus1

The Night Circus is a sweet romance/magical mystery with just the right amount of edge. It’s delightful and fantastical without being ridiculous. I read it in one swoop during a trans-Atlantic flight and was almost sad when the plan landed because I didn’t want the story to end. Make it a carnival-themed double feature with Something Wicked This Way Comes. Tantalizingly spine-tingling, I think of it any time the fall wind rustles the leaves outside my window.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

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The Thirteenth Tale is another book I’ve read multiple times. It has references to Jane Eyre and gothic elements and a heroine who loves books and a mysterious author and long-held secrets. Basically, it has all of my favorite things! LOVE!  The Woman in White is a master class in moody, atmospheric storytelling. Widely recognized as the first mystery novel, it’s spooky, beautifully written, and — to keep things interesting — is told through the voices of many narrators. Each chapter moves the story forward by having a different character share their tale. There’s a little bit of a lag in the very last section, but it picks up full steam just before the end.

The Raven, Annabelle Lee, Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

bestofpoeWhen I was in sixth grade, my English teacher turned out the lights, closed the blinds, and read “The Tell-Tale Heart” to us by flashlight. I still think of the unnerving rhythm of Poe’s words when I hear a clock ticking in the dark. Fast forward a few decades… I forced cajoled my family into sitting in the closet with me while I read Annabelle Lee aloud by flashlight. Poe is the master.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

shirleyjackson1Creepy, all-together shocking,  dark and disturbing… I was kind of stunned when I finished We Have Always Lived In The Castle. The ending is so… wow. I was lured into buying it by the amazing cover on the Penguin edition, and I should have known it would knock my socks off because the other well-known story by Shirley Jackson is the thoroughly unsettling tale The Lottery.  (So good so good so good.)

Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan
She Walks These Hills by Sharyn McCrumb

ghoststories1I read Down a Dark Hall when I was about 15 and still remember every detail. It’s a perfectly eerie tale set in a boarding school that’s more than it seems. It’s not giving anything away to let you know that one plot line centers on a girl who plays the piano, and I thought about that plenty when I was practicing classical music as a teenager. She Walks These Hills is tasty, southern-fried gothic with memorable characters. You can practically hear the creaky chairs on the porch and the wind whistling through the holler. (For added ambience, listen to Mike Ness’s version of “Long Black Veil” while you read.)

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