It’s officially summer, which means you are now a hot and sticky mess minutes after leaving your house every morning. So what better time to pick up a book that will send a shiver down your spine, even as you try in vain to keep from sweating on your NOOK?
Here are three chilling recent releases with scares to suit all tastes, from boogeyman horror to childhood fears:
NOS4A2, by Joe Hill: This 700-page doorstopper is the latest horror masterpiece from Joe Hill, who would probably love it if people would talk about his books without mentioning his famous father—one Mr. Stephen King. But it’s hard to avoid the comparison when he’s writing something so firmly in daddy’s wheelhouse. NOS4a2 is the story of Vic McQueen, a young girl with a gift—the ability to travel anywhere her mind desires using a magical bike and a mysterious moving bridge—and her decades-long battle with Charles Talent Manx, a soul-sucking vampire with an appetite for children, who travels the same highways of the mind in his sinister vintage Rolls Royce (the license plate gives the book its title). Like King at his best (think IT + Stand By Me), Hill crafts compelling characters and relationships. There’s a wonderful alternative love story between Vic and her overweight, geeky motorcycle-loving boyfriend, and a downright touching illustration of the bond between mother and child. He also writes twisted horror set pieces, from a climb up a laundry chute in a burning house to the terrifying climax in Christmasland, the other-worldly nightmare wonderland where Manx sends the souls of the children he’s kidnapped. The real twist? Hill might be even better at this than his dad.
The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes: Beukes has won acclaim for her science-fiction novels Moxyland and Zoo City, and fantastical elements are still very much in play in her literary fiction debut about Harper Curtis, a Depression-era bum who discovers a strange Chicago rowhouse with a door that opens up on different eras, and which seems to want him to hunt down certain “shining girls,” women who are destined to do something special with their lives. In what reads like a twisted take on The Time Traveler’s Wife, Harper haunts his targets through the decades, visiting them first as children, then moving in for the kill years later (for them, anyway). But when one of his predestined victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives the attack, she starts hunting him back. Set in Chicago and spanning the 1930s through the 1990s, this fast-moving thriller is rich with period detail and filled with fascinating characters. Moreover, in short chapters devoted to sketching out the lives of each of the shining girls, it becomes something new: a serial killer story that is more interested in the lives of the victims than in the mind of the killer.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman: Touted as Gaiman’s first novel for adults in eight years, this creepy fairy tale actually fits snugly on the shelf next to his young adult masterpieces The Graveyard Book and Coraline. Our unnamed narrator visits his rural childhood home and finds himself recalling one forgotten childhood summer, which started off with his parents’ lodger stealing their car and committing suicide in the back seat. Not something you’d think you’d forget, but there’s a reason he did, and it involves both the family’s sinister new nanny and little Lettie Hemstock, who lives down the lane with her eccentric mother and grandmother in a ramshackle house with a pond out back—a pond Lettie calls her ocean, and which has hidden depths. Alive with nostalgia for the wonder of childhood and, especially, books, this is some of Gaiman’s finest work in any medium (and that’s saying something).
What else should we read to scare ourselves cold this summer?