“Chris Picks” for October: Thrillers

Here are this month’s great recommendations from staff member Christopher Jennings Penders! Click on a title to place a hold. You can find previous Chris Picks through the “What to read” link at the bottom of this page or type “Chris Picks” into the search bar on our homepage.

Changing things up a bit for October. Since October is Halloween month, I will suggest a few haunted house movies that I like, along with a few scary books.

Movies You Don’t Want to Miss

These are my top four haunted house movies of all time. Everything happens psychologically, which I find more frightening than the gratuitous films being produced today. It’s what you don’t see that’s more frightening.

The Changeling with George C. Scott
One of my four all-time favorite haunted house movies (the other three are below) tells the story of John Russell, a man who lost his wife and child in a horrific automobile accident. To recover from the tragedy, John moves to Washington State and purchases a house that is later found to have a ghostly presence.

The Uninvited
Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey star as a brother and sister who buy a house on the cliffs of Cornwall, only to discover they are not the only occupants. Another psychological ghost story along the same lines as “The Changeling.”

The Haunting (Robert Wise version)
As you can probably tell by now, I’m a fan of psychological horror. “The Haunting,” directed by Robert Wise (NOT the remake), is the movie to see.

The Innocents with Deborah Kerr
Kerr stars as a new governess who comes to watch over two orphans who may be haunted by ghostly spirits.


The Historian by Elizabeth Kostava

The Historian is an adventure and so much fun to read. The book opens with a series of mysterious letters and the search for the protagonist’s father. An exciting book and one I simply couldn’t put down. The length of this book may be intimidating to some, but PLEASE don’t let that prevent you from traveling down the path that leads you through this book.

There are not many books that have so enthralled me. When I came to the last hundred fifty pages of this book, I slowed WAY down because I didn’t want The Historian to end. As with many books I feel strongly about, I stopped reading for a while in order to digest the amazing nature of this piece of historical fantasy.

I cannot recommend this book more.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu

Many believe that Dracula marks the first appearance of the vampire in modern fiction. They’d be wrong.  Carmilla by LeFanu actually preceded Dracula by over twenty years.

I first read Carmilla many years ago, probably when I was in high school. The story left such a lasting impression on me because, like so many others, I wasn’t aware that there was another vampire book before Dracula.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The Turn of the Screw is the basis for the above movie, The Innocents.

The Haunting of Hill by House Shirley Jackson is also the premise for The Haunting.

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
The Ebola outbreak in Reston, Virginia is documented in The Hot Zone. Exciting and distressing at the same time, this book definitely held my attention. In minute detail, Mr. Preston describes the horrifying effects of the Ebola virus on humanity. Even though Preston gets down and dirty, that didn’t prevent me from turning page after page. Reading the details may well have spurred me on.

Like slowing down at an accident scene, I couldn’t help gaping at the details Mr. Preston continued to build on. That is a testament to a well-written and well-researched manuscript.

Let me just warn you upfront that The Hot Zone does its job very well, sucking you in and at the same time creating an aversion effect.

I couldn’t stop reading while wanting to look away as well.

Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston
Picking up where The Hot Zone kind of left off, Demon in the Freezer is almost more engrossing and more terrifying. It tells the story of Smallpox and where the virus is kept at secret locations in freezers around the world. Thus, the title.

The virus disappeared from the world. However, it is kept hidden away and in fact, in some places, it is so well hidden that no one appears to know exactly where it is. That in itself is terrifying. Along with The Hot Zone, read Demon in the Freezer at your own peril. You won’t see the world the same way again. Another engrossing and thrilling read that I simply could not stop reading. I think you’ll feel the same way.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman wrote an unsettling short book in Coraline. It in no way means that I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. It wasn’t a book I expected from Gaiman, having read most of his fiction prior to Coraline. Part haunted house story, this book is the first taste I had of Neil Gaiman going dark. Should you want something lighter after reading Coraline, I think Neil Gaiman’s best work to date is:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Gaiman continues to pull off his magic.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a bit different from Gaiman’s other books in that the book can almost be read in one sitting. It is, I believe, the shortest book of his career. That doesn’t mean he skimped. Far from it. Gaiman made the book the perfect length. Infused with a child-like atmosphere, there is also just enough suspense to keep adults riveted as well. One thing Mr. Gaiman never has a challenge with is ending his books. This one is no exception. Pick up this quick little book and I guarantee you’ll be happier for it. This is my favorite book he has written, and that’s saying quite a bit.

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