Spooky Books for Long, Dark Winter Nights

As the nights grow longer and chilly, spooky stories are the perfect companion.

Nocturnes is a selection of short stories and novellas by John Connolly.   Many of the stories are quick glimpses into the macabre, while others linger a while longer.  Readers will never look at a circus or clowns the same way again.  I'm also a little cautious about mirrors, too.  Expect to meet witches, vampires, fairies, a tormented stranger and a vengeful ghost.  These bite-sized morsels are delicious.

Another short story collection worth checking out is Fancies and Goodnights, written by John Collier in the early 20th century.  Each story has an old-fashioned feel to it, almost like Collier identifies older fears we think we have abandoned.  After tasting a little Collier, just try to enter a department store without looking over your shoulder.  Collier is praised by Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl and other fantasy and science fiction writers, who credit him with inspiration and guidance.  Prepare to be unsettled.

The Gates, another book by by John Connolly, is listed as a young adult novel, but as I have stated before, "YA" doesn't mean it should be resigned to the young.  Samuel Johnson, age 11, and his daschund Boswell witnesses his bored neighbors accidentally open up the Gates of Hell.  What comes through isn't pleasant, especially when it wears the skin of Mrs. Abernathy and threatens the small boy and his dog.

What if there is existence after death?  Would you want to know?  Audrey Niffenegger explores that realm in her latest novel, Her Fearful Symmetry.  The characters were intriguing, the story compelling and we discover that life, and death, aren't at all what one expects.  Elspeth, a twin, dies, and leaves her apartment, and the life it gave her, to her sister's mirror-twin daughters.  When the young women arrive, they meet many of the people in Elspeth's life — including one they didn't expect.

Connolly scores another direct hit with The Book of Lost Things, a book about a book.  David is a sad and troubled child whose life and sanity hangs in the balance on the cusp of World War II.  After his mother dies and his father remarries, he hears books talking to him — especially one in particular, older and more dangerous than the others.  Connolly mixes tragedy and humor, fairy tales and reality, a child's worst nightmares and his greatest dreams.  Readers must encounter this book if only to meet the dwarves.

Heart-Shaped Box is, hands down, one of the scariest books I have read in years.  I suggest you have a Reading Buddy on hand, like I did, when you attempt this book.  In Joe Hill's first novel, an aging rock star named Jude purchases a suit said to be haunted by a ghost.  From the moment Jude opens his UPS package, you know this is no lightweight story: it draws blood from the start and it keeps going for the jugular.

One can't complete a spooky book list without mentioning Stephen King.  I stepped away from him for a while because a couple of recent novels didn't hit the mark with me — but a recent collection of novellas and short stories did.  Just After Sunset reminded me why I wore a cross around my neck for most of the seventh grade and why I couldn't sleep for days after finishing Misery.  Some of the stories are more compelling than others, but as with his best, some of the scariest stuff was what could be true.  Between the artifacts appearing in a man's home to an obsessive-compulsive whose illness began after a photo session in the wilds of Maine, there's more than enough to keep a reader jumping.

What are some of the scariest books you have read?