When the pumpkin spice lattes start flowing, even in August, it makes me want to read horror novels. All the horror novels. So, I’m already gearing up for my fall creepy reads. Hence, when I found out that Penguin Random House was doing mystery boxes of horror novels, I jumped a the chance to grab one.
Amy has discussed the joy of her book subscription boxes, and while I have yet to take the plunge on one of those, my mystery box gave me that little thrill. It did not disappoint. My TBR pile now contains some new and classic horror stories. But this got me to thinking…what are my favorite kinds of horror novels? What is the secret sauce that really makes me love them? And what are my all-time favorite horror reads?
Well, the answer to the first question is topical. My favorite horror novels involve haunted houses. I want a big creepy house filled with terrifying ghosties. Ideally, the house itself needs to feel like its own character. This probably explains why The Shining by Stephen King is my perfect horror novel—the horror novel that I judge all others against. Although not a house, it of course involves one giant haunted structure. Other notable books in this category include Hell House by Richard Mattheson and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. And for a graphic novel selection, the Locke and Key series by Joe Hill is excellent.
As for the secret sauce, pacing seems to be of the utmost importance for me when it comes to horror novels. I need to feel the tension ratcheting up slowly until I am flipping pages as fast as lightening. And this is one of many reasons that Stephen King is a master of this genre. He is a master at twisting the tension screw in just the right way.
I also have a deep appreciation for truly horrific imagery. It’s not about blood and gore, it is more about creating scenes where I feel that chill deep in my bones. Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chobsky had this piece in spades, with horrifying descriptions of dream-like people with their mouths stitched closed (although it ultimately isn’t my favorite horror novel, but that’s another post). For a solid middle grade version of this, City of Ghosts and Tunnel of Bones, by Victoria Schwab. Both of these books have masterfully creepy imagery set against historic backdrops. And even more impressive is that they are creepy enough for an adult to enjoy but not so creepy that they scare the pants off of a kid.
Lastly, a good horror novel, much like a good thriller or mystery, has to be able to bring it home. How many times have I read a horror novel that is amazing…until the end? Too many times to count. But the best of them really stick the landing. A bad ending can ruin any novel but it seems like good endings are harder to come by in the horror genre, for whatever reason. It can’t feel like a cop out. The end has to make sense in the context of what had happened. It has to explain (or strategically refuse to explain) the spookiness. And I suppose that is a tall order. Making sense of the fantastical creepiness isn’t easy.
So, do you like horror novels? What are your favorites? Are there any on your TBR? Let us know in the comments!