Symptoms while reading any of the following thrillers may include:
…Breathing sounds more like a fan than from a human being…
…Blood pressure that breaks Mount Everest peak heights…
…Intense shivering (will not be eased even by your Easter European grandmother’s wool blanket)…
…Bone-clattering fear that may be mistaken for the sound of bells…
…Hours spent clutching pepper spray instead of your favorite teddy…
Now that you know what you are in for, it’s the season of Halloween, so ignore all my warnings and dive into one of these delicious novels.
In My Dreams I Hold A Knife
by Ashley Winstead
“Ten years after graduation, Jessica Miller has planned her triumphant return to southern, elite Duquette University, down to the envious whispers that are sure to follow in her wake. But not everyone is ready to move on. Not everyone left Duquette ten years ago, and not everyone can let Heather’s murder go unsolved. Someone is determined to trap the real killer, to make the guilty pay. When the six friends are reunited, they will be forced to confront what happened that night—and the years’ worth of secrets each of them would do anything to keep hidden.“
(thriller, suspense, psychological fiction)
Trigger Warnings: Addiction, eating disorders, murder, physical violence, suicide (mentioned)
I would describe this book as the ideal middle ground between a frightening mysterious setting and a dark-academiaone. It’s the perfect October book because it will make you yearn for a cup of hot tea and a fuzzy blanket, but it will most definitely be an ever-present reminder that October is not all about fall, but also Halloween.
Let’s talk about the characters. I would call them ‘found family’, but by the end of the book, they wish they never met. All characters are beyond flawed. Some of the most accurate ways to describe them would be: self-absorbed, greedy, and most importantly, inhumanly selfish. There is really not one character which you will root for making the process of resolving the murder that much more tedious.
More often than not, a character will do something so dreadful you will wish to individually carve their names out of the page. Especially Jessica. Like I said, they are all somehow flawed – even the victim of the the crime – but that is what makes this book so fun and refreshing. So if you like psychoanalyzing people in real-life, maybe grab this book and stop annoying your friends.
One of the aspects that makes this book so beautifully crafted is the back-and-forth timeline between their college days, when the clock struck murder and betrayal, and, of course, their bloody reunion. This structure makes it impossible to be satisfied with finishing a chapter. You will, and I guarantee you will, always want to turn the page and get a glimpse into the next chapter. Chapters usually end with a cliffhanger in one of the timelines, but then you have to work your way through the other timeline’s chapter to get back to where you left off. Which, in case you were wondering, always pays off! The author isn’t cruel. If she grips your attention for an extra chapter, you better believe it’s going to mind-boggle and amaze you! It’s truly an impossible chore to put this book down and get on with life.
I will say though, be warned, and I don’t say this kindly, this book will make you doubt all your friends and close surroundings. So, read this at your own risk!
Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
Jules Larsen is a young woman with less than $500 bucks in her checking account, a broken engagement, and no job. When she’s offered a chance to “apartment sit” for an apartment at a beautiful, upscale building called The Bartholomew, she jumps at the chance, despite knowing that it all seems a little too good to be true.
As Jules begins to look into the many stories that surround Bartholomew, she soon starts to uncover the secrets of its dark and haunted past. However, it seems there are those around her who would prefer those secrets stay buried.
(thriller, suspense, psychological thriller)
Trigger Warnings: Grief, Self-harm, Murder, Suicide(mentioned)
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ /5
This mystery novel takes place in New York’s Upper West Side. Surely this book will be a cozy fall rom-com where the girl almost gets run over by a taxi while crossing, but it turns out the person in the taxi is her future boss and, of course, they just have to fall in love at first sight. Right? Wroooong!
First of all, let me tell you, in the first 70 or so pages, you will wish you were our protagonist. I mean, she pretty much won the lottery by not only getting the chance to live in a luxury apartment amongst New York’s high society, but she was being paid to do it too. But don’t start manifesting it until you finish the book. Once you get to page 300 of this book, you will get the urge to lock every door because it gets very troublesome and sludgy – and I do mean with blood – very fast.
If you are a general fiction or fantasy reader all year round except October and are used to the cute little romance or found family sub-plots that authors sprinkle in to enrich their character’s story, you must – MUST- leave that at the door when entering this novel. Nothing, not a single particle of dust, is to be trusted. It’s an element of all of Sager’s books that makes finishing his book feel like walking a maze with a broken compass every single time.
It’s not the most fast-paced novel I have ever read, but all those additional moments spent with the character living her situations only add more cherries on top when you find out the truth. I believe this makes this book better because a lot of thriller readers focus only on making their book a one-time speedy journey with a singular destination of uncovering the truth read for the audience. Meanwhile, Sager’s attention to details and character-to-world explorations makes the uncovering of the truth only the beginning of the reader’s next five hours staring at a white wall recalling all they thought to be true.
This novel is not the usual “Who did it?”, but rather “Why in God’s name is this happening to me?” and, oh boy, does it pay off when you find out the answer.
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
by Holly Jackson
“The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it. But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the crime, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn’t so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden.And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth?“
Trigger Warnings: Drug abuse, Sexual assault, Rape, Bullying
I will be honest, the books I talk about above are quite literally terrifying. This one, however, is one for those who really are just looking to get in the mood for Halloween and have not received the full-body experience of it.
As I said, this mystery novel could be considered cozy since it takes place in a high school setting, and the personality of the protagonist is contagiously relatable. But there are plenty of moments that will make you wish you would have not waited until 2 a.m. to finally start reading again. I think that was one of the reasons I was so hooked on its plot. It was a world of fiction that felt almost mundane and similar to my daily life; the mysterious and suspicious events recurring on and on within the plot almost made my own surroundings seem enriched. I did suspect my father’s late-night walk with our dog, but it’s been 2 months already since I finished the book, so I think – maybe, possibly – we are OK.
A gripping technique used by Jackson, which, in my opinion, should be considered by more thriller writers was including essential pieces of evidence found by the protagonist as a visual page in the book. There are at least twenty pages of the book which Jackson allocates to showing blood-splattered letters, ripped pages of journals, or even the notebook in which the protagonist wrote her suspicions. These pages engulfed me in the story and placed me in the fictional world and mind of the protagonist. I swear to you I was there every step of the way. Seeing exactly how her thought process and consciousness were reflected in her investigation skills and discoveries made me feel like I, myself, was one of Pip’s sidekicks, not just a reader. Similarly, these “evidence pages” almost gave my brain a change of scenery from the usual look of the book’s ordinary pages making the novel one of the easiest to read.
Jackson’s ability to create likeable characters is immaculate. Like every person, when reading a mystery novel I am doubtful of everyone. So, imagine my surprise when in my heart I felt that even if the protagonist did turn out to be an antagonist involved in Andi’s tragic death, I would still find a way to justify her actions. What does that say about me? That I am not sure. But, it speaks loudly on behalf of Jackson’s craft of writing mysteries.
Read this book. And really, read every book Holly Jackson has written because she is beyond gifted. Why else would I have ranted on about her books in not one, but two of my book reviews?
FIY: If you wish to see the review of her newest novel, “Five Survive” you can find it in my article: #BookTok – The Most Hyped Books of 2023
Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
“Maggie Holt is a 30-year-old woman who has inherited a mansion, Baneberry Hall, from her late father, Ewan. 25 years ago, Ewan wrote a non-fictional bestselling novel called House of Horrors about the Holt family’s experiences living in the house he claims was haunted for 20 days, before they fled in terror. It’s a book that came to define Maggie’s life. Maggie has no recollection of that time, but she has always regarded the book as being full of lies. Against her father’s wishes, Maggie goes back to Baneberry Hall to uncover the truth about what really happened in those twenty fateful and horrific days.”
(horror, suspense, psychological thriller)
Trigger Warnings: Violence, Blood & Gore(depiction), Grief
I read this book while on vacation. That sounds nice, right? The mesmerizing Dubai sunsets. The views of white sand and skyrocketing elegant buildings. The white fluffy robes. Oh, the list goes on forever. But what made my decision beyond foolish? I read this book alone in my hotel room. And, yes, you guessed it. This is by far the most spine-tingling book out of this entire book review.
Have you ever had the feeling that a spider is crawling up your arm except there was nothing on your arm; or that the coat rack you keep hidden behind your closet could maybe if you squint a tad – be a person? Well, that was how I felt throughout the entire experience of reading this book. That’s right! It should be categorized as an experience of its own. The craft of this thriller novel should be gifted its own subplot of thrillers—3D thrillers—because it is just that descriptive and gripping of the reader’s five senses.
Not one moment did I rest assured that I could close my lids and when I awoke the protagonist would be safe. She just kept going through it all. And boy was it entertaining. The brutally honest interior monologue made the protagonist’s emotions palpable to me like I was an extension of her in the real world. If she felt scared, I felt scared. If she felt petrified, I felt petrified. If she felt that she was nearing death, then so was I. That is a quality not a lot of books possess successfully, especially in horror books where the point is to make the surroundings treacherous, not the character’s emotions, but Sager achieved just that. For example, the way Sager describes the protagonist’s feelings of longing for her late family makes the feelings perceptible to the reader: “Grief is tricky like that. It can lie low for hours, long enough for magical thinking to take hold. Then, when you’re good and vulnerable, it will leap out at you like a fun-house skeleton, and all the pain you thought was gone comes roaring back.”
The concept of this book is very creative and – thank God – very well executed. The protagonist’s dad’s book is sprinkled within the pages of the novel as a ‘Then’ timeline. Going back and forth, seeing her own father go through similar experiences delivers a more dramatic flare to the book because seeing the way not one, but two characters were reacting to her childhood gothic home’s environment made the circumstances more credible and possible.
And, of course, every chapter ends with a cliffhanger in one of the timelines, and you have to work your way through another chapter to get back. You know the drill. That always does it for me and as predicted I indeed finish this book in two days even considering the chaotic days of vacation with my family. Coming home from perfect days spent on the beach or in massive malls could not have contrasted with the dark and eerie mood of this book. Nevertheless, it almost made me feel more grateful to be living such happy days while reading the dark themes of the book because it created an equilibrium for my brain. It was easier to digest all the paranormal details of the book.
I debated including this book in this article because it felt like I was limiting choice for the audience of my article given this novel and Lock Every Door have the same author, but Riley Sager is just so good that I had to mention two of his works. You must, must, must, read a Sager book before October ends. Or else…
I know your first instinct is to grab a cup of tea and rewatch Gilmore Girls for the 11th time, but I promise you any one of the books is worth it if you wish to get into the mood for Halloween.