20 of the scariest books you’ll ever read, according to readers

"I put the light on for several nights!"

Several Stephen King classics made it onto this reader-recommended list of best horror books.

For lovers of all things terrifying and thrilling, there’s no better time to dive into a horror book than the Halloween season. If you’re looking for a scary story to get you through Halloweekend, readers have a long list of suggestions for you. 

In honor of the holiday, the Book Club read the supernatural horror comedy “Dead Flip” by Sara Farizan. We also asked readers to share the best horror books they’ve ever read to create this guide to spooky season reads. This reader-recommended list includes everything from supernatural horror to true crime and features some prolific modern horror writers like Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy. 


Below you’ll find 20 scary stories that readers say will keep you up reading well past the witching hour.

“Child of God” by Cormac McCarthy (1973)

This chilling novel follows the life of a violent serial killer living in Appalachian Tennessee. Originally published in 1973, “Child of God” is author Cormac McCarthy’s third novel. He recently published his first novel in 16 years

“Terrific character development. Evil as all get out,” one reader said about “Child of God.”

“Cujo” by Stephen King (1981)

The master of horror makes an appearance several times on this list and several readers named “Cujo” as his most captivating work. The book has a simple premise about a rabid Saint Bernard terrorizing a town, but readers say you won’t want to put it down. 

“If you are into books that actually scare you, this is the one! Even after reading the book, the movie scared the heck out of me as well,” Laurence H. from Salem said. 

“Ghost Story” by Peter Straub (1979)

Readers and literary critics alike love this novel about four men haunted by a violent act from their youth. 

“’Ghost Story’ really got me,” Sue C. from Jamaica Plain said. “I put the light on for several nights!” 

“Goosebumps” series by R.L. Stine (1993)

The tagline says it all: “Reader beware — you’re in a for a scare.” If you have a child in your life with an interest in the spooky or supernatural, readers say you should direct them to the “Goosebumps” series. There are over 100 scary stories to choose from, including haunted houses, demonic puppets, ghosts, and more. 

“Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill (2007)

This debut horror novel is a ghost story about a man being haunted by a spirit trapped inside a dead man’s funeral suit. Hill is the son of writers Stephen King and Tabitha King, and has written a number of horror and thriller novels himself.  

“I’m Thinking Of Ending Things” by Iain Reid (2016)

Readers found this psychological thriller unsettling and captivating to the very last page. The story centers on a young woman who travels to a secluded farm with her new boyfriend to meet his parents for the first time.


“I started the book the afternoon it was delivered, and at 4 a.m. the next morning, I was still reading because I couldn’t possibly go to sleep with the plot in such a strange, creepy place,” said Mary from Quincy.

“It” by Stephen King (1986)

This book, and now film, have become a classic supernatural horror story. This novel follows a group of children being terrorized by a monster that uses their fears to disguise itself while hunting them down. 

“The first time I read this book, many many years ago, I was pregnant. I had to stop reading it. It was totally freaking me out,” Dianne R. from Revere said. “I picked it up years later and it was still just as scary, nothing to do with pregnancy hormones. But I got through it and to this day, it is still the scariest book I have ever read.” 

“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote (1965)

Perhaps the scariest thing about “In Cold Blood” is that it’s not a work of pure fiction. The book details the 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family in a small farming town in Kansas.

“It basically spawned all the true crime books and documentaries of today. There’s no boogeyman. Instead, the monster is human and it builds around psychological horror,” said Craig C. from Cambridge.

“NOS4A2” by Joe Hill (2013)

In this novel, Joe Hill created a supernatural suspense story and sets it in a fictional Massachusetts town. Protagonist Victoria McQueen escaped the story’s villain as a child and prepares to face off against him after her own child is put in danger, too. 


“This is simply a great read — real creepy bad guys and it rings local, too. Son of a famous author himself,” said Bob from Somerville.

“Pet Sematary” by Stephen King (1983)

This story follows a family who has recently moved to a small town in Maine where generations of children have created a graveyard for their dead pets. Beyond those graves is another burial ground that poses a real danger to the town’s residents. 

“Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King (1975)

Vampires are a staple of the supernatural horror genre, and readers said King tells one of the best vampire stories out there in “‘Salem’s Lot.”

“The creepy small-town Maine setting and bloodsucking vampires in the night. This is a masterpiece by King,” said Jeff L. from Andover.

“Starve Acre” by Andrew Michael Hurley (2019)

Andrew Michael Hurley crafts a horror story out of grief in this novel about a couple who get involved with a group of occultists after the death of their five-year-old son. 

“Deeply creepy, slow, and believable buildup. The characters themselves are complicit in the terror that happens to them,” said A.T. Drost from Boston.

“The Amityville Horror” by Jay Anson (1977)

Whether you’re a fan of horror films or books, you’ve heard of this story about a house possessed by evil spirits. 

“I read this way before the movie was made. I could not put it down despite being scared out of my wits,” said G. Gilbert from Marblehead. “I threw the book in the trash after I read it because it was that scary!” 

“The Bunker Diary” by Kevin Brooks (2013)

Readers say this young adult horror novel isn’t for the faint of heart. The book is set in a bunker where a young man and a cast of other characters are held captive by a sociopathic kidnapper. 


“Despite being a young adult novel, this book has haunted me since I read it years ago. Readers will be left deeply unsettled after this page-turner,” said Erin from Boston. “Aren’t the scariest stories the ones that could happen in real life?”

“The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty (1971)

There’s no more iconic story of demonic possession than “The Exorcist.” The film adaption appears on’s guide to the best horror films available on streaming. 

“This book is unholy. I would read it and the descriptions it had would send chills down my spine. There was one section I read and it scared me so much, I put the book down and didn’t start rereading it for about a week,” Bill P. from Kingston shared. “When they say the book is better than the movie, this is one of those books.”

“The Girl in a Swing” by Richard Adams (1980)

In this novel, a whirlwind romance goes wrong when the couple starts experiencing terrifying visions of death and violence. 

“A beautiful, terrifying novel by the author of, unbelievably, ‘Watership Down.’ The lengths that somebody might go to live the life they want,” said Nelson from Dexter, Maine.

“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

In this critically-acclaimed novel, a man and his son try to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

“I still think about the basement scene with the amputees that were eaten by cannibals one limb at a time and get the chills,” one reader said. 

“The Shining” by Stephen King (1977)

Read this iconic King novel about a descent into madness, then watch the equally gripping film adaptation.


“This is hands down, the only book that has ever legitimately scared me. The way your imagination runs with the words on the pages and you realize that this same situation could ACTUALLY happen to you? Terrifying,” said Gina from Woburn. “I love horror books, and I don’t scare easily, but this is the one that I will not read again because it impacted me that much.”

“The Stand” by Stephen King (1978)

Our last recommendation from King’s catalog is a dark fantasy that may hit close to home. After the world is decimated by a highly contagious super-flu, the remaining survivors struggle for the fate of humanity. 

“After reading two paragraphs, I was hooked and stayed up till 4 a.m. to finish it,” said George P. from Franklin. “Absolutely gripping, because at the time, it was highly likely.”

“The Troop” by Nick Cutter (2014)

The Canadian wilderness serves as the backdrop for this novel in which a troop of young boys on a camping trip encounter the “human carrier of a bioengineered nightmare.”

“The Troop by Nick Cutter is a recent one that haunts my dreams,” said a reader. “Pro tip: Don’t eat pasta or noodles when reading it.”