Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cowering between the covers

Posted by Dawn Dalton on 11:10 AM

I'm three quarters of the way through Daughter of Smoke and Bone, perhaps one of the most skillfully written paranormal young adults books I've ever read. In the wake of such favorites as Shiver and The Hunger Games, that's saying a lot.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is not only breathtaking, it also has tremendous creep factor. Author Laini Taylor does a brilliant job of merging the macabre and the beautiful - and if you haven't started reading it, you should. Now.

I'm not quite finished, so I'll leave my gushing for a future full review. But since there's only 25 sleeps until Halloween, I started thinking about my bookshelves and the vast number of thriller-esque novels I've amassed over the years. As with film, it takes a really creepy book to give me the true heebie jeebies.

Here's the 13 that remain imprinted across my still-pounding heart.

1. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris - Buffalo Bill AND Hannibal Lecter in one novel? Thriller bliss! Thomas Harris is genius at bad-guy creation, and few antagonists live up to the awesomeness that is Hannibal the Cannibal.

2. Misery by Stephen King - Almost all of Stephen King's earlier titles could have made this list. Pet Cemetary for its introduction to zombies (to me) and for making me question every move my dog made, and of course, the book It for giving me an irrational terror of clowns. But there's something about Misery that stands out as the most frightening. Maybe it's the writer in me...

3. Creature by John Saul - I grew up reading everything John Saul and Dean Koontz wrote. I'm sure there are titles by both that are scarier than Creature, but it's this John Saul book that truly inspired my shift from writing romance to thriller.

4. Afraid by J.A. Konrath - J.A. Konrath is the current king of e-book publishing, but its this in-print book that still gives me the shivers to think about. Afraid also changed my opinion of camping - as in, maybe I shouldn't, ever, no matter how amazon my husband considers himself. The pacing of this book is unparalleled.

5. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty - The movie goes down as one of the only flicks to actually make me scream, but the book gave me a few restless sleeps as well. When it was first published (1971) many considered it the most controversial and scariest book of all time. I doubt it would have the same impact on me today, but I'm almost afraid to give it a try.

6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - Not to be confused with the less-than-stellar Frankenstein series by Dean Koontz. Shelley's creation: creepy, yes, but also so beautiful. I could read this classic again and again, Halloween or not. So should you.

7. Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe - Or pretty much anything by Poe. He was dark, often depressing, and always brilliant. Nuff said.

8. Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin - a wonderful example of dramatic irony! While parts of the novel bordered on campy, some of the text was so clearly disturbing, its effect lingers even today. I have not seen the movie.

9. Perfume by Patrick Suskind - I love everything about this book. Everything. The controversy. The graphic violence and sex. The structure. And most of all, the writing. Suskind challenges himself to write a novel while focussing almost entirely on one sense - smell. For writers who are often encouraged to add more sensory detail, Perfume is like an invigorating textbook on what to do. The movie is also exceptional.

10. Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons - Stephen King calls Carrion Comfort one of the three greatest  horror novels of the 20th century. I'm inclined to agree. Simmons is a skillful storyteller, infusing a tremendous amount of detail to create scenes that will make you shudder. Settle in, though. Carrion Comfort is a BIG book.

11. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis - If not for my fairly firm rule of finishing every book I start, I may not have made it to the end of this truly disturbing novel. Ellis crosses many of my comfort zone boundaries, and though I list it here as one of the books that has frightened me, I don't own it, and will likely never read it again.

12. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi - I'd be lying if I didn't admit to having a certain fascination with well-known serial killers. I write adult thriller novels under the last name IUS, and have been known to study the stories of some downright horrific people. ALL of their stories give me the creeps - they hit a lot closer to home than the made-up world of deadly vampires and werewolves. But the Manson murders described in Helter Skelter kept me awake for a long, long time.

13. Heartsick by Chelsea Cain - Chelsea Cain is my thriller-writing idol. Seriously. I devoured Heartsick, not once, but several times, even underlining the phrasing and characterization that makes her writing stand out above all other thriller/horror writers. Her style is raw and engaging, and perhaps  one of the best examples of how to create true emotion. I fell IN LOVE with her female serial killer, to the point of gobbling up the "Gretchen" merchandise on the Chelsea Cain website. I felt true sympathy for her hero. The relationship between Gretchen and Archie has often been described as similar to that of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice in Silence of the Lambs. Cain doesn't write with the same polish as Thomas Harris, but I'd go out on a limb to say that in my opinion, Heartsick is a far creepier and better book. There are three in this series, all brilliant, but Heartsick literally made me weep with envy.

How many books on my list have you read? What did I miss? I'd love to add your creepiest-books-ever titles to my groaning TBR pile.

- Dawn

P.S. - I couldn't add it to the list, because of course it is yet to be released, but I'd bet the SPIRITED anthology to be published by Leap Books will be hauntingly great. Want to win your own copy? Follow the ghostly clues here and follow SPIRITED on Twitter (@Spirited13) to uncover the paranormal authors whose stories will be featured in the anthology. There's 13 books to give away!


Isn't Daughter of Smoke and Bone amazing? God, I wish I had that kind of skill in my writing. *sigh* Creepiest books? I have to admit, I'm a creepy-book wimp. IT by Stephen King freaked me the heck out (I've hated clowns forever). ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake (a new YA paranormal) was great, though not scary, per se.

I know what you mean, Mary. Laini is truly gifted. I am desperate for Anna Dressed in Blood, but everywhere I go, it's sold out. Argh.

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