Hello and welcome to the first Spooky October post of 2020! 🎃
Those of you who have been with us for more than a year are likely already familiar with Spooky October, but for everyone else, I think an introduction to this Halloween goodness is in order. Spooky October was created back in 2015 – god, I feel old – and we’ve kept this tradition going since then. This year, Sabrina and I are excited to bring you two weeks / six posts of spooky content that is going to cater to lovers of horror and scaredy-cats alike.
Today, it’s time for our first of two collaborative post, where we have brought you mystery-thriller book recommendations. I’ve wanted to make a big recommendation post like this for a while – and two of different genres our (kind of) in progress! – and I thought that Spooky October would be the perfect time to share the first one with you. So I’ve enlisted Sabrina, fellow mystery-thriller fan, and together we are ready to flood your to-read pile with mystery-thriller recommendations!
One thing I want to accomplish with this series is to help beginners of the genre find their footing, but nonetheless, I hope the post will prove helpful to fans of the genre, as well. We have divided the post into sub-genres / categories, and will be sharing 3-3 novels under each. Excited? Because I am.
mysteries with a great romance
Every Breath: This contemporary Sherlock Holmes retelling has everything I want in a good book: a fascinating mystery, great characters, and a truly lovely romance. 🥺 I’ll admit that the quality of the books regressed as the series progressed, but as a whole, this trilogy is still well worth reading.
Lady Julia Grey: I love most of Deanna Raybourn’s novels, but none of them can top her Lady Julia Grey series for me, even if there are some less than perfect tropes used in it. Part of the series charm is the wonderfully shippable romance, but the dark, disturbing cases were just as important for my enjoyment.
Don’t Look Back: I read Don’t Look Back ages ago, but I have very fond memories of it and it’s one of the only mysteries I’ve ever reread. (I mostly reread romances or previous novels in a series, if you’re wondering.) While the mystery is really solid and it managed to surprise me, what made fall in love with the novel were the characters and the incredible romance.
A MADNESS OF SUNSHINE: I had high expectations for Nalini Singh’s mystery debut, and I was not disappointed! A Madness of Sunshine is a small town mystery in which the murders touch everyone’s life in the community, so it’s no wonder that the protagonist ends up swept up in the case. It’s a slower mystery – with just a touch of romance – that I highly enjoyed.
MY COUSIN RACHEL: While I love Du Maurier’s Rebecca, I think My Cousin Rachel is an even more captivating novel. Unlike most mystery novels, this one is full of ambiguity and it doesn’t give you concrete answers at the end; we all have to rely on our own ideas and beliefs about the characters to decide who is the villain.
SWEETPEA: If you want to read something messed up, I highly recommend Sweet Pea. It is told from a psychopath’s point of view who is slowly unraveling and who starts to murder people. I categorized it as a slow title because it doesn’t have a concrete or stable plot; it is more of a character study of the protagonist. If you can, go for the audiobook as I doubt I’d have enjoyed the story this much without the excellent narration.
morally gray characters
Sadie: Sadie was all over the blogosphere when it was published, but it’s since disappeared, I think, so time for me to recommend it! It’s a mixture of two things: (1) a story about Sadie trying to avenge her sister, and (2) a true crime podcast that’s trying to uncover what happened to Sadie. I loved the way the past and present are mixed together, and I highly enjoyed this story.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly: Another title I read ages ago but one I remember quite clearly. If you like to read about cults and how they affect people, I highly recommend The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly which dwells deep into Minnow’s psychological trauma. I believe this was inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale, so if you enjoyed that, this might be suitable for you.
Jane Steele: You wouldn’t expect a retelling of Jane Eyre to be about a murderess, which is exactly why Jane Steele feels so unique to me. Jane has killed some people – but, reader, they all deserved it! – but she is a lovable character nonetheless. If you ever wished that Jane Eyre would have fought back, this is the story for you.
mysteries with paranormal or fantasy elements
The Broken Girls: Any of Simone St. James’ novels would be a good fit for this category, but The Broken Girls is my favorite book by her so far. This is an intriguing, slightly creepy mystery with excellent friendship, past + present storylines and a really nice romance to top it off.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds: Similarly to St. James, all of Cat Winters’ novels have paranormal elements and all but one of them are excellent novels. (I’m looking at you, The Raven’s Tale!) In any case, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is my favorite novel by her – it has a tragic but beautiful romance, great aunt-niece dynamics, and a heroine in STEM. Splendid.
The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall: I think this is a must read for anyone who enjoys ghost stories, as it shows us things from, well, the ghosts’ perspective. It’s also quite atmospheric and well-written, and it serves us some great twists so it is a wholly great reading experience.
Sometimes I Lie: Amber is my favorite type of unreliable narrator – she is perfectly honest about lying to the readers which makes reading this novel a wild ride. Even though I knew she was lying about certain things, I found myself shocked by the twists that just kept coming towards the end.
Little Darlings: In this case, we have two narrators – one minor and major one – and neither of them are 100% reliable. Lauren, a new mother, might be hallucinating everything that’s happening to her, while Joanna, a detective, may very well just not see what’s right in front of her because she absolutely refuses to consider a supernatural explanation. If you enjoy ambiguous endings / stories, this one’s for you. On a side note, you choose to read this one, I recommend skipping the blurb because it spoils too much of the plot.
The Dead House: I read this ages ago so I don’t remember the plot very clearly, but I do remember absolutely loving it. (Perhaps a reread is in order? Hm, something to think about.) Similarly to Little Darling, the existence of the paranormal is very ambiguous and remains so even at the end.
THE GUEST LIST: I was so excited to read this book and it did not let me down – in fact, it’s one of my favourite books I’ve read this year. It has a large cast of characters with many of them getting their own perspectives featured in the book – and you know from the start that one of these characters is going to end up dead and that someone else killed them. The story is about a destination wedding held on a remote island that has its own tragic history. The island landscape and the fact that the characters are so isolated makes the atmosphere really tense and scary.
NO EXIT: This is another thriller with an isolated, frightening setting – this time, a rest stop during a snowstorm. I won’t say too much about the plot for fear of spoilers, but we follow a college student who is trapped at this rest stop at night on her way home with a few other people that she discovers may not be what they seem. This book had me constantly on edge, wondering how the protagonist could possibly get out of the situation she finds herself in.
REBECCA: When I think of Rebecca, one of the first words that comes to mind is “atmospheric”. The setting of the huge Manderley estate by the ocean is wonderfully creepy and it really comes to life through the writing style. It also helps that we see the story through the narrator’s eyes and she is so wary of everyone and everything.
THE THIRTEENTH TALE: This is a pretty long book, but I struggled so much to take a break from it! I was so captivated by the story, wondering exactly how everything was going to turn out. The book is about a biographer that has been specifically requested by an elderly author to interview her and finally tell her life story. There’s a creepy old house and so many mysteries to unravel.
FINGERSMITH: If you need your characters to be nice and likeable, you should make sure to steer clear of this one! There are several twists over the course of this book that truly threw me, but we start with a character who is part of a plot to steal a rich man’s fortune. It’s a slower read, but the build up makes the twists all the more surprising while still making complete sense.
GOLDIE VANCE: This is a really fun graphic novel series (though I have only read the first two at this point in time) following a teenage detective set mostly in a hotel. I loved the whole atmosphere and the colourful artwork along with the mystery.
intense friendship groups
THE LAST TIME I LIED: This is the dramatic story of a woman who returns to a summer camp that she attended when she was young – this time as an instructor. She wants to get to the bottom of the mysterious circumstances that occurred when she last was there – the biggest question being: what happened to her friends?
IF WE WERE VILLAINS: It’s no secret that I love this dark academia book featuring a group of theatre students who end up involved in a murder. If you love Shakespeare, I have to recommend this to you, but even if you’re unfamiliar, it’s worth a try.
THE FURIES: Possibly my favourite part of this book was the writing, but the intense friendship group and dynamics within that was significant to me too. The themes discussed in this are so interesting and well done. I think this is super underrated so I can’t recommend it enough!
DARK PLACES: Of all the books I’ve mentioned in this post, this is the one I read the longest time ago and the one I remember the least about – except for the fact that there was a complicated family and some really disturbing scenes. I remember the main twist not coming as a shock to me, but there were plenty other questions I had that kept me invested in the story.
YOU WILL KNOW ME: This is the first Megan Abbott book I read. If you were ever involved in sports as a kid, I feel like you’ll really get this one. If I’m remembering correctly, this story is told from the point of view of a mother whose daughter is trying to become an elite gymnast. There’s intense competition between the daughter and other girls as well as between the parents, and as is often the way with thrillers, someone eventually turns up dead.
THE OTHER PEOPLE: I read this earlier this year and I enjoyed the experience a lot. There was so much going on that kept me interested and I liked how I had lots of questions, right up to the end. It was fascinating putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.
GIVE ME YOUR HAND: This is a great thriller about a broken friendship of two women with big career goals in science. It switches back and forth between the past and the present, leaving you guessing about exactly what happened to cause these girls to drift apart. Of this section, this is the only book that is not sci-fi, but I still feel that it fits here.
DARK MATTER: I loved how fast paced this sci-fi thriller was and how it really shocked me. It makes you question how your choices define the path your life takes and what your core values are. This is definitely more of a plot-based book than character-based, so keep that in mind if you decide to pick it up!
THE NEED: First off, I have to say that I am in love with this version of the cover. This book is the opposite of Dark Matter in that it is more of a slow, introspective character focused story than a plot-based one, in my opinion. I loved the themes explored and how much it freaked me out and left me thinking.
Do you enjoy mystery-thriller novels? What are your favorite types of mystery-thrillers? Do you have any recommendations for us? Have you read any of our picks?