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Saturday 7 October 2017

10 Stephen King Books To Read This Halloween

I normally do a Halloween book list at the time of year; creepy and or downright terrifying books that I intend to read for the season that's in it, but I thought I'd do something a little different, considering all of the Stephen King love that's going around at the minute. I actually can't believe that I haven't done a blog post on this before, given my King super fan status but better late than never.

This is not an exhaustive list, King is a prolific writer; I'm trying but I don't think I'll ever get through his entire back catalogue. Nor is this in any particular order, all the books featured here are ones that I love, no more, no less than each other. I've also read plenty more of his books than what features here but I guess these are the ones that have stayed with me the longest. If you think you know the story because you've seen the film, and that you don't need to read the book, think again. As with all King adaptations, so much of the finer descriptive work and backstory goes missing when it's transformed onto the big screen. This is a timing issue- too much story to fit into an hour and a half/two hours. I'm gonna assume that you, the reader are a King novice for the purpose of this post and go right ahead and explain the storyline of each novel.

I've got a weird love and fascination for his writing. It's often disturbing, scary and bizarre but it's also funny, emotive and extremely clever. I love the many pop culture references, the descriptions of small town Americana and the "Easter eggs" from his own work that are peppered throughout his books. "Easter eggs", in case you think I've gone mad, are the references that are hidden in a book, film, TV show etc. that are placed there specifically as a treat for fans. King does this with aplomb- mentions of killer clowns, "army experiments gone wrong, like that movie, The Mist", the Overlook Hotel, etc. are really enjoyable for utter book nerds like myself when spotted somewhere unexpected. The more of his books you read, the more you'll realise they're all connected and exist in their own little King Universe. Not a place you'd want to live in, sure, but it's the perfect location to get lost in a great story!

The Shining
I was obsessed with the film long before I read the book and for some reason, I chose the time I was very ill in hospital to work my way through this 500 long page-turner. Jack Torrance is a budding writer and part time teacher. He's struggling to make ends meet for him, his wife Wendy and son Danny and so he takes a job offer as a janitor in a hotel during the winter months when its doors will be closed. The family drive on up to the foreboding Overlook Hotel, where they're warned about the dangers of isolation, cold, dark weather and cabin fever. Jack thinks they can handle it and so they're left to their own devices to keep an eye on the boiler and general maintenance. Jack plans to write his novel now he has peace and quiet but the force of evil residing in the hotel has other ideas. Little Danny meanwhile, has "the shining', an unwanted ability to communicate with the dead. Unfortunately for Danny, there's lots of dead people in The Overlook Hotel and they all want to play with him. Let me tell you that this book scared the actual bejaysus out of me. I remember reading this in my hospital bed and debating about whether or not I should attempt to go asleep after a particularly terrifying passage. Forget everything you know about the film, this is where its at. I'd also recommend the sequel, Doctor Sleep.
Be prepared to be scared forevermore of; topiary animals, hotels, abusive fathers/husbands/men in general (to be fair) and boilers.

King's first book and the one his wife Tabitha, fished out from the trash and told him to persevere with. G'wan Tabitha! Carrie is a marginalised teenage girl. She's bullied by her peers for being "weird". Her mother is extremely religious and so they both live in relative poverty- Carrie's clothes are old and unfashionable and because her mother thinks it's sinful, she has never explained to her what menstruation is. Carrie then thinks she is dying when she gets her first period in school and just to compound matters for her, all the mean girls are there to witness her breakdown and torment her even more. One of her schoolmates feels bad for bullying her so makes her boyfriend agree to take Carrie to the prom. All the other bullies have a different idea though, and plan to humiliate Carrie as much as they possibly can. Unfortunately for them, they don't realise that the onset of Carrie's period has given her telekinesis and she will get her revenge for how she's been mistreated her entire life. This is a tricky one cause you do feel very sorry for Carrie, she's a tragic figure, but King being King just pushes the boundaries that little bit to the point where you want her to stop. This is a pretty quick read so if you're a King newbie, it's a good one to start with.
Be prepared to be scared forever more of; teenage girls, religion and high school proms, I guess.

Another excellent film adaptation, but I felt the book put me right into the main characters shoes so I got double the terror! Paul Sheldon is a very successful writer. He's the author of a series of romance/drama novels whose main character, Misery Chastain, he is desperate to be rid of. She's haunted his career and so, with relief, he writes the final in the series, where he finally kills off Mercy. His tradition upon completing a book is to drive up to a cabin in Colorado where he enjoys a bottle of champagne and a cigar but the roads are snowed in and he gets into a terrible car accident. His biggest fan, Annie Wilkes saves him from the wreckage but instead of bringing him to the hospital, she takes him home where she tells him she'll nurse him back to health..he just has to write a new book the way she wants it where Misery lives. Annie isn't in any way mentally stable and becomes Paul's jailer and tormentor. Good sweet Jesus, the horrors poor Paul has to go through. Even the description of pain in this book is so very real that it can be difficult reading at times, but it is oh so brilliantly written. This was another one that I read into the long hours of the night, sat bolt upright, adrenaline pumping through my veins, hoping Paul would win.
Be prepared to be scared forevermore of; nurses, small animal figurines, being bed-bound, and hobbling (that's ankle bashing with a sledgehammer), if you already weren't, for some reason.

OK, deep breath for this one. I only read this book last year. I'd been putting it off because the TV mini series back in 1990/1991 scared the living daylights out of me and I didn't even really see it (my sisters were watching it, they made me sit with my back to it so I heard everything and peeked around in time to see goddamn Pennywise and his massive array of teeth). Himself and I re-watched it a few years back (lads, we rented a DVD version, so that should age us even further) and although it has aged incredibly badly, the concept was still scary. Fast forward to last October then and I thought it would be the ideal time to finally read IT, and so I got all 1,200 pages of it on Audible where some voice actor proceeded to scare the crap out of me for the following two months. I listened to this primarily walking to and from work and so many times I found myself stopped in my tracks, internally screaming at something absolutely horrifying that was taking place in my headphones. Pennywise is just a representation of an unspeakable evil that's lived in Derry since the beginning. It reappears every 27 years to feed by luring children and then eating them and It takes the shape of whatever your biggest fear is. That varies from child to child obviously, providing a rich and imaginative storyline that keeps you scared witless for the entire book. If you've seen the new movie, which was great, I'd recommend reading the book now as it combines all the lovely nostalgia from the first half, where the kids fight Pennywise, to the newer setting of the second half of the book, where the kids, now adults, must return to Derry and take on the evil yet again. Plus, you'll be ahead of everyone else before the next film comes out!
Be prepared to be scared forever more of; clowns (although you really should have been anyway, to be honest. What's wrong with you?), lepers, old women, sewers, syphilis, storm drains, balloons, abandoned houses, being a girl, bullies, small town Maine, birds, werewolves, libraries, Chinese food, perverts, abusive husbands/fathers/men in general, blood, bathrooms, being a small child.

This is a more recent book from King and one that I recommend the most to people who want to read King but don't like horror. This is a time travel novel that brings us back to the 1950's and poses the question, "would the world be a better place if John F. Kennedy had never been shot?".
Jake Epping is a high school teacher in a modern day setting and comes across an essay written by a mature student; a janitor who fifty years ago survived a violent assault by his father on Halloween night that killed his mother, his siblings and left Harry disabled. When Jake is approached by a friend and the local diner owner who tells him he can travel through time, he sceptically agrees to try to change history, firstly by helping Harry, and if that works he can work on saving J.F.K, as is his friend's goal. Jake doesn't realise it yet but every action he takes is changing something else, and not always for the better. I absolutely devoured this book. I loved it so much. That's a period of time I find fascinating anyway but the book deals with much more than just time travel; there's a love story, a whole host of perfectly drawn characters and even though it's not technically a horror, it has plenty of spine chilling moments. I laughed, I cried, I was shocked to my core but also thoroughly entertained. Oh and you best believe I sweated absolute buckets with the sheer tension of it when it gets to the part on the grassy knoll. I'm jealous of anyone who hasn't read it yet..go read, now!
Be prepared to be scared forever more of; sledge hammers, small town Maine, Russia, abusive husbands/fathers/men in general, the government, time travel.

Under The Dome
Another more recently written work, I'm actually currently reading this one so I can't give my full verdict yet but I'm completely absorbed and the story has fully pulled me in. Another winner! Chester's Mill is a small town in Maine where on a crisp October day (congrats to me for starting a book in the month in which it's set- not planned at all) the town is suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible border. It takes the town's inhabitants a day to figure it out after several deaths and car crashes. Now the issue becomes how can the town generators survive? Will the patients in the hospital die? Who will take over the police force? Will there be enough food? All of that is aside from the very obvious; what is it, how did it get here and how will they get out? As with so many of King's books, the main threat is supernatural and obviously scary but the real worry becomes mankind itself. We're introduced to both good and very bad people living under the dome but who will survive? I'm loving this one, it's set in the modern day, so there's plenty of mentions of the internet, blackberries, iPods etc. but at the same time, it has that old school small town Stephen King vibe that's associated so clearly with his books. The perfect mix!
Be prepared to be scared forever more of (based on my reading so far); people but let's face it, mostly men, religion, terrifying invisible dome structures that effectively trap you with some undercover psychopaths, small town Maine, police brutality.

Pet Sematary
I still think about this one quite regularly. Another story that made my hairs stand on end. King calls this one his scariest book and I think he may be right. Louis Creed is a doctor, moving to small town Maine (guess what I'll be telling you to be scared of at the end of this? I've actually been to Maine and it's rather lovely but you should probably still be scared) for a job and bringing his wife Rachel, son Gage and daughter Ellen with him. They move into their new home and instantly become friends with the elderly couple living across the road. Their new neighbour, Judd, brings the family to see the local "pet sematary", so spelt as it was created by a group of children as a place to bury their pets when they died. The family are a little freaked out but think no more of it. In Louis' first day in his new job a young man is brought in following a road traffic accident with most of his head missing. Louis dreams he's visited by the young man that night and although the dream seemed very real, well it can't be cause he's dead, right? WRONG. You're in Maine now, buddy. Things go from bad to worse after that and I won't go into it cause if I had to be close to tears with fear and stress then you should too. Let me just say one name though. Zelda. *shudders intensely*
Be prepared to be scared forever more of; kindly old men that seem helpful, cats, pet cemeteries, actual people cemeteries, road traffic accidents, the dead, small town Maine, children (always creepy).

Salem's Lot
King's ode to Vampire movies and or Dracula, the novel. This might be one of my lesser favourites but it's still up there cause several parts of it terrified me good-o.  Guess where Salem's Lot is situated? You guessed it, Maine!! Ben Mears, a writer and former resident of Salem's Lot, returns to town, still haunted and fascinated by the old Marsten House, a forbidding and ghostly building overlooking the town. He plans to write a book about it and starts dating a local women, Susan, and all is going well except that the new owner of the house is so mysterious and then of course, people start to go missing. Including a local boy that is found almost entirely drained of his blood. He's buried but begins to make nightly visits to his little brothers window, knocking from the outside and begging to be let in *cue blood curdling scream*. The head vampire himself is not overly scary but the build up and the tension in this book is masterful.
Be prepared to be scared forever more of; Vampires (obvs), small town Maine, night-time, small children, windows.

Mr. Mercedes
Another relative newbie, this is the first part of a trilogy about retired detective, Bill Hodges. The book gives us a really shocking introduction to the killer, Mr. Mercedes and his first known crime, for which he is never caught. Bill is not enjoying his retirement; he's begun to put on weight, feels he has no purpose and is considering shooting himself with his service revolver. That is until Mr. Mercedes begins to send him taunting emails begging him to play the game and try and catch him, or more people will get hurt. This is a bit gory in places but is really more of a thriller, so it's another good one for those who don't love horror. It's also now a TV series starring Brendan Gleeson and from what I've seen, it's pretty good. This book was my favourite in the trilogy but when you read this one, you'll be hooked and will want to read the rest anyway!
Be prepared to be scared forevermore of; clowns (as always), psychopaths, cars, computers, computer nerds, inappropriate mother/son relationships, burgers, retirement, ice cream vans.

The Stand
I'm saving the longest for almost last. I think it took me most of a Summer to read this but it was so worth it. This is pure dystopia at its very best. A bio-engineered virus, produced in a U.S government lab is accidentally released, and within a couple of weeks almost all of humanity has succumbed to a super flu that kills within days. Those who are left, quickly fall into two categories; good and evil. The two groupings begin to have the same dreams every night about two mysterious figures; Mother Abigail, a kindly and wise old black woman, telling them to come to her in Colorado and Randall Flagg, a dark shadowy figure telling them to come to Vegas. Bad enough to have an apocalypse thanks to a virus but Flagg intends to destroy humanity altogether and this book feels quite biblical because of that. Flagg could definitely be seen as the Devil's representative on Earth and Mother Abigail, as God's representative but it's really more about the individual characters and what they bring to the storyline. This is an absolutely epic read and one of the very best from King- it's a mixture of fantasy and horror but will make you think on a deeper level about humankind and why we are here in the first place- not always what you would have expected from either of those genres.
Be prepared to be scared forevermore of; the flu/common cold/any randomer even barely coughing near you on the Luas, viruses in general, pyromaniacs, the Devil, the sort of people who can survive an apocalypse (I'll be gone first anyway- I have no survival skills and the people who don't have those but survive anyway, survive cause they kill everyone else), the government.

Bonus round: The Mist
The Mist is a novella so will be a super quick read if you're looking for just one of these to add to your Halloween reading list. You can read the others throughout the rest of the year!
It's actually the first King book I read and I became a lifelong fan based on this one alone. You might have seen the movie adaptation a few years ago that has the most depressing ending of all time (different to the book) but if you haven't and even if you have, I'd recommend giving it a read. I think about this book constantly. What I would do in a similar situation (I think I'd just stay in the grocery store, I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to face the giant spiders and all the winged things) and if I too would become a follower of local religious lunatic, Mrs Carmody. I'd like to think not, but you know, extreme circumstances and all.
Basic plot here; David sets off from his (say it with me folks) SMALL TOWN MAINE home, bringing his son to the grocery store after a violent storm that night. By the time they get to the parking lot a sudden mist has begun to creep across the town and with it comes gigantic, stomach churning creatures who only want to eat you and make you suffer while they do it. Gigantic spiders that shoot webs of acid, anyone? Nope, didn't think so. Oh god, the scuttling. And the flying ones. Vomit. Vomit all over my keyboard. Anyways, David and his son become trapped in the supermarket with a whole host of random people (again, who's more of a threat, the supernatural creatures or the people surrounding you?) who are under constant attack from the beasts living in the mist outside. They need medicines but the pharmacy is next door...oh and they may eventually need to escape but can they get to the car in one piece and how far does the mist even go?
Prepare to be scared forevermore of; Mist (obvs), the government, viruses, people but let's face it, mostly men, gigantic winged creatures that want to eat you, gigantic scuttling insects that want to eat you, gigantic acid spitting spiders that want to kill you and use you as a nest for their many evil spider babies, supermarkets, religion, small town Maine.

Before you start any of these, I obviously recommend clearing some space in your freezer, a la Joey Tribbiani.

And that's your lot. Give me a couple more years and I'll return with a part two! Speaking of which, any recommendations for what to read next? I hear the Dark Tower series is good, any thoughts? I'm definitely more old school King but I'm hoping to read them all at some stage so it's more of a matter of what to read first! 
To the comments!


  1. Fantasic choices, I know and love them all! I'm reading IT again and would love to read The Stand again (which I adored) although it's such a mammoth undertaking!

    1. I think I'll have to leave IT for a few years but I'll definitely want a re-read at some stage too! I'm the same as you with The Stand. I've forgotten parts of it (some have stuck in my mind forever) so I'd love a refresh!

  2. I read The Shining one Halloween, it's perfect for this time of the year! I must pick up Doctor Sleep at some stage. And I loved Mr Mercedes too (though I felt like it was the strongest of that trilogy). The only other King I've read is Dolores Claiborne, which I really liked. Dolores is telling the story, it's her speaking almost in a monologue, she addresses other characters but they never answer her back on the page, you just know what they say based on how she reactions. But it's mainly just her telling the story, it's an interesting one

    1. Dolores is for sure on my list! Under the Dome is a long one so if I get that finished by the end of the month I'll be doing well! Sounds like it'd be a good option for an audio book though as it's her thoughts/monologue etc?

  3. I've been a King fan since I first read Salem's Lot when I was 13. I really can't argue with any of your choices with the one caveat being I have yet to read 11.22.63 and Under the Dome. This is an excellent list.

  4. You're gonna hate me for this but I've never read King before! I have no idea why, these stories sounds amazing; I definitely need to read them all this autumn :D love your blog! xx

    elizabeth ♡ ”Ice Cream” whispers Clara
    (I would love to follow each other on bloglovin if you like! :D)