5 Seriously Creepy Books to Scare the Bejesuz Out of You

We don’t really have “autumn” in South Florida. Today, for instance, we had a high temperature of 88 degrees Fahrenheit (or 31 degrees Celsius) and I have to admit sometimes it’s a little tough getting in that Halloween frame of mind. (It’s also terrible to be Christmas shopping when it’s 91 degrees outside, but that’s a story better told in two months or so.)

So when it’s still sweltering outside, how does one get into that chilly, gloomy, spooky mood that is so delicious this time of year? I usually pull out a book that scares the crap out of me. Here (in no particular order) are my favorite scary books I’ve read in recent years.  And I am not taking the easy route and presenting you with five Stephen King novels, although I certainly could. There is a reason Joey Tribiani kept The Shining in the freezer.

haunting of hill houseThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Most people are familiar with Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery.” And if you aren’t, go read it immediately. (You’re welcome.) The Haunting of Hill House is a novel she wrote in 1959 and it is without a doubt the quintessential haunted house story of all time. There was an excellent film adaptation in 1963 starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn, and there was an equally appalling adaption in 1999 with Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta Jones and Lilli Taylor. I highly reccomend the 1963 version. My husband and I watch it every year and are always delightlfully spooked.

However, the book itself is head and shoulders above the film (as is usually the case isn’t it?). I first read it maybe eight years ago and I can still summon the shivery feeling I experienced. Shirley Jackson was a freaking master at scaring the tar out of her reader. This novel is so clever there is no confirmed monster or ghost in the entire work–it’s all psychological. The creep factor lingers long after finishing the book.

Jackson died at just 48 years old. Think about that and consider what horrors she could have produced had she lived to a ripe old age.


woman in blackThe Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I was first introduced to this English writer by a library volunteer who recommended the Simon Serrailer detective novels, and I devoured those. Hill has a great gift for characterization and for sprinkling nuggets of useful information throughout her mysteries so you actually have a chance to work out the killer if you are clever enough. (I almost never am, but I do appreciate this in a writer–she doesn’t cheat her reader with tricks.)

In 2012 my husband and I spent two weeks in England. Our first few days we spent in Oxford, where I had done a study abroad semester when I was 20. Have you ever heard of the bookstore Blackwell? Good Lord, what a place. I believe there are four or five floors packed with books and they boast a full mile of shelving. The uppermost floor has used books and the two of us spent HOURS wading through the treasures. It was there that I found a paperback copy of The Woman in Black. I saw Susan Hill’s name and I grabbed it. I started reading it that night in our miniscule hotel room.

Sweet Jesus what a frightening book. It is reminiscent of a nineteenth century writer (think Emily Bronte) and tells the tale of a young lawyer sent to a creepy old house to settle an estate. The mood, setting, and tone all combine to keep you reading all night with every last light turned on. There is also one of those total, “Oh SHIT” moments when you realize the ghostly presence isn’t just scary but smart too.

This also had a successful movie adaptation from a few years ago starring Daniel Radcliffe. It was mostly faithful to the story, which is rather hard to find in Hollywood these days.


i hunt killersI Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Barry Lyga is a kickass YA novelist with several great books under his belt like Boy Toy, and The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. I Hunt Killers is the first in his trilogy about Jasper (Jazz) Dent, who just happens to have a serial killer for a father. Who escaped from prison. And wants his son to follow in his footsteps.

I think quoting other reviews is sort of lame, but Joe Hill sums it up so perfectly when he wrote: “I Hunt Killers is an out-of-control hearse with one busted headlight, blood on the grille, a madman at the wheel, and laughter pouring out of the open windows. Climb in, buckle up, and go for a ride.” I couldn’t give this book better praise than that. The other two parts of the trilogy, Game, and Blood of My Blood are also out. But you need to start at the beginning and treasure every sentence of this twisted, frightening tale.


nos482NOS482 by Joe Hill

In this novel Joe Hill does for Santa’s Village what Stephen King did for clowns in IT: Turn it into something beyond terrifying. The novel centers on Victoria McQueen, a kid who has some unusual talents. Her nemesis is the frightening child abductor Charlie Manx who is fond of taking children for rides in his car to Christmasland. That’s not a euphimism–Christmasland is a diabolical amusement park with no way out. Vic evades him as a child, but years later he manages to swipe her son.

A lot of people have called Joe Hill the best horror writer of my generation. Yeah, his dad is Stephen King, but this guy has proven chops of his own–no nepotism required. I didn’t actually put this book in the freezer.

But I thought about it.


birdboxBird Box by Joseph Malerman

Malorie lives in a boarded-up house with her two children. They never go outside if not blindfolded and they never look out the windows. There is something out there–a presence that when seen turns people into raving lunatics who violently murder anyone in their path. No one who has seen “it” has lived to name it.

The remaining survivors stay hidden indoors, not daring to look out the window in fear of catching a glimpse of the unexplained terror. Malorie has been hiding for five years and she and her children are starving. She makes the ultimate gamble: she blindfolds them all and they make for a rowboat in the river. As they float downstream with just their ears and other senses to guide them the realize something is following them. But what?

I almost couldn’t finish this one because I felt so claustrophobic reading it. That, my friends, is talented writing.

I hope this gives you a few good chills this Halloween season. If you have any recommendations for me I’d love to hear them. I’m always on the hunt for my next creepy read.


Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett

Blood and SaltI adore a dark and twisted story. I suppose it started in 6th grade when someone gave me a dog-eared paperback of Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. Today, her name conjures up a very different type of novel, but back then (when they were still  actually written by her) they were perfect for me: narrated by a girl my age, a world that was at once fantastic and realistic, and black as an angsty teenager’s heart.

My parents (and specifically my Mom) never forbade me to read anything. But she was aware of what I was reading and would often read it too and then talk about it with me. Because of this I have always been of the opinion that it doesn’t matter what you read, it is what you take away from it. Yeah, I read a lot of stuff that was adult but I will tell you it never led me to bad behavior because it gave me ideas. I think a lot of it went right over my head anyway.

Kim Liggett came on my radar through Twitter. A few weeks ago Blood and Salt was released and there was a launch party in New York. Jodi Kendall, another author who is represented by my agent (Alex Slater @ Trident Media Group) tweeted pictures from the party, which looked amazing. So the title was in my head and when I was at the bookstore last weekend, I saw it on a table of spooky reads in the YA section, so I bought a copy.

(Can I just make a small digression here? I am so thrilled with the way YA literature has exploded over the past decade. When I was of the age there was very little in that area, hence, me reading V.C. Andrews. But now there is an ENTIRE TABLE of YA books that are just of the creepyspookyscary nature and I think that is outstanding. It appeals directly to the dark side of being a teenager. And let’s be honest, that’s a significant chunk of a teen’s personality, no matter what it’s dressed in.)

But to the book at hand: I loved it. Kim’s writing is lovely, and she doesn’t dance around the edges of darkness–she plunges right in. Ash Larkin and her fraternal twin Rhys live in New York City with their mother. Right from the beginning we realize there is something strange about Ash: she has been seeing the vision of the same dead girl, hanging from her feet and dripping blood, since she was very small. She connects it to the cult her mother escaped as a young woman and she isn’t wrong. When her mother disappears she and her brother head straight for Quivira, hidden on the cornfields of Kansas. From the moment the twins step foot inside the isolated community mystical occurences, unexplained deaths, and deadly whispers from the corn itself surround them. Ash, who has always been the alpha twin, realizes she needs to find out what’s happening fast or risk both of their lives.

But let’s throw some romance into the plot, shall we? Ash has never met a guy who made her feel anything but nausea. But when she clamps eyes on one tall, dark and handsome named Dane, everything changes in a bolt of proverbial lightning. Everyone in the small community is connected by blood, and the connection Ash has to him is a very interesting one indeed.

Kim’s writing is funny and snarky with a uniquely original voice. To give you a taste, here is one of my favorite lines: “I had no idea what my face was doing, but inside it was complete hormonal anarchy.”

See? It’s lines like that which make books worth reading. I hate it when I hear people scoff that YA books aren’t real literature. It’s not just teens who are reading them these days. My reading diet has a steady supply of them and I can say unequivocally that there are some amazing, deep, thought-provoking, adventerous, scary, real books being written for this age group by some very talented writers.

Teens, like any human being, don’t like to be talked down to. They don’t need you to shield them from all the scary things out there in the big bad world. Most likely they have already been acquainted with some of them. Kim Ligget doesn’t hold back when she tells her story, and I am glad for it. Ash’s story is thrilling, scary, and heartbreaking and you really need to read it.


The Ramblin’ Palates in LaBelle

I have a fantastic circle of friends. Every week on Friday mornings a group of us meet for breakfast at a local diner. It’s not a strictly defined group, there are some that come once in a while, but there is a core of us that is Always. There. We never miss it.

The Ramblin' Palates are ready to go!

The Ramblin’ Palates are ready to go!

Here we are. From the left is Cary, me, Kosta (my husband), Di, and Tammy. The only one missing is Val, but we met up with her on our way.

It just so happens that this core group also happen to be foodies. Which is how the Ramblin’ Palates came to be. We decided that every month or so we would journey to a restaurant out there in the state of Florida that has a reputation for great food. Today we took a trip north and inland to the little town of LaBelle, FL for lunch.

We have so much fun together. There is much laughter, usually near to the point of someone wetting themselves. On our drive to LaBelle we took two cars because there were to be six of us. But fifteen minutes into the journey Tammy calls us and to inform us this is unacceptable and that we must all ride together. So we drop our car in the Target parking lot and squeeze into Di’s SUV. We thought it was a tight fit then, but when we got to Ft. Myers and picked up Val? Let’s just say it may have been slightly illegal how there were four of us crammed in the back seat.2 Peas Cafe sigh

We arrived in LaBelle at the The Two Peas Cafe. Tammy had lived in LaBelle during high school so she knew the ladies who owned the place. They are famous for their pie, which is the most important food group, in my humble opinion. I will take a piece of pie over all other sweets. My mother makes me a birthday pie every August. The day after Thanksgiving can always be counted on as being outstanding because there is always pie for breakfast. You get the idea.

The restaurant isn’t fancy, but the ladies who work there are welcoming, friendly, and the food was awesome. Since October it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month the Two Peas Cafe was awash in pink. There were t-shirts, pink hair, and pink ribbon cards that could be obtained by making a donation.

Save 2nd Base

Save 2nd Base

Di made a generous gift to the fund and we all wrote on ribbons for our loved ones who had cancer. Some survived, some did not. But all of them were fighters.

Lunch was excellent. After perusing the menu Cary and I decided to split entrees. I ordered the fried green tomatoes and she ordered the garlic cheddar burger and we each ate half. The burger was good, but the tomatoes were out of this world. Tangy, crispy, and lightly battered. YUM.

fried green tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes


Everyone was happy with their meals:

Kosta and his Patricia Melt

Kosta and his Patricia Melt

Cary and Di with their burgers

Cary and Di with their burgers

Val and her Hoppin John

Val and her Hoppin John

Tammy and her BL Fried Green Tomato sandwich.

Tammy and her BL Fried Green T sandwich.















Poor Tammy. She’s so painfully shy.

Dessert was divine as well. All of us save Kosta had the coconut cream pie. Di, whose family is from Kentucky, informed us the proper way to pronouce it is “cokernut.” To think I’ve been saying it wrong all these years!

Cokernut Cream Pie

Cokernut Cream Pie

Kosta decided to be the rogue (Black Sheep is his middle name) and had the last slice of apple pie in the house. It was served up like this with the rest of our pies:

apple pie beforeAnd then one of the owners saw what he had and squawked in dismay. She told him, “Honey, give me that pie and I’ll show you how a fat girl eats it.”

She took away the sweet little slice, plump with apples and fragrant with spices. When she returned it was warm, had 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream, and was drizzled with caramel sauce:

apple pie after

What was once an ordinary piece of apple pie was now transformed into a hedonistic, diabetic-coma-inducing masterpiece.

You know he ate the whole thing. Minus one bite that I stole.

The pie doctor

The pie doctor and one of the Two Peas

The self-proclaimed “fat girl” told us the story of how Two Peas Cafe got its name. The two women who own it have been best friends their whole lives. They were often likened to two peas in a pod. Regardless of good, bad, or the inveitable trouble they landed it, the two peas stuck together.

A delicious meal and PIE. What could be better?

The fun didn’t end there. After lunch Tammy and Val took us on a driving tour of the little town of LaBelle. We saw where they used to live, work, and go to school. We saw the church that has a tree planted in their mother’s honor. And then we turned a corner and found a pumpkin patch complete with corn maze! Naturally, a clown car crammed with adults hopped up on sugar needed to stop.

pumpkin patch

The Ramblin Palates before the mayhem…

Uh... guys? Thats a beanbag toss... not a--never mind.

Uh… guys? Thats a beanbag toss… not a–never mind.


Children of the Corn

Children of the Corn

The two ladies who were staffing the pumpkin patch must have thought we were all newly escaped from Happy Acres. There were several occasions when one of us had to walk away or risk peeing in our pants from laughing.  When we were posing behind the candy corn, I distinctly remember my husband shouting at Cary: “Don’t pee on me! Don’t pee on me!” Which of course, was not exactly helpful to someone with a terminal case of the giggles.

I’m sure the two ladies were glad to see us go. Especially since we didn’t buy any pumpkins.

The last stop we made in LaBelle was the Harold P. Curtis Honey Company.  They have been in LaBelle since 1954 and they sell all sorts of varieties of wonderful honey. Since the last time I was in LaBelle they have had an outstanding mural painted on the side of their building:

Harold P. Curtis Honey Co. LaBelle, FL

Harold P. Curtis Honey Co. LaBelle, FL

We popped inside for a look around. They have wildflower and orange blossom honey, as you would expect in Florida, but they also have mangrove, seagrape, and palmetto honey too. We all tasted the different kinds and Kosta bought some seagrape honey to take home.

So we packed ourselves tightly in the car and headed home.

The view from the back seat.

The view from the back seat.


Stay tuned for next month’s adventure!