With Halloween a mere sleep away, spooky book recommendations are flooding the internet, from classic horror literature picks to unnerving psychological thrillers. Yet I find that there’s a stark difference in the appeal of a thriller novel and a horror story, a line that separates two distinct experiences a reader has when choosing one of the two genres. While some may welcome both horror and thrillers and discriminate against neither, I find that my personal reading preference lie firmly on one side of the two common Halloween genres. I love thrillers, but 99% of the time I will run in the opposite direction of a horror novel (I value my sleep). For me, liking one of the two genres is mutually exclusive, and the feel, tone, and experience of reading a thriller is totally separate than that of a horror novel (and that rule applies to movies too!)
The Thing About Thrillers
Thrillers are the ultimate genre for those readers who have the patience to indulge in slow-burn gratification. The whole book is usually a puzzle, with pieces slowly coming together, and the reading experience becomes a game with yourself to figure out if you can guess the twists and plot reveal prior to the ending, while navigating through carefully placed red herrings. Reading thrillers is an exercise in intelligence, making your brain think in ways you didn’t know it could (How satisfied do you feel when you guess a plot twist? If you answered extremely satisfied, you’re right). Thrillers are almost always synonymous with the mystery genre, and arguably take more skill to write since they require clues seasoned throughout the plot, like a well-planned and tested recipe. Thrillers have purpose and intent to their plot, an end goal to the anxiety they produce, unlike horror novels that seek the instant gratification of a scare, of senseless fear for the purpose of shock value. I find reading thrillers often an intellectual experience that tests either my mind, my instincts, or both, and I leave the experience with the feeling that I’ve accomplished something while reading, and that it was worth my while to indulge in as it challenged my perceptions and made me engage with the novel.
Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout- A great stand0alone thriller that still keeps its YA charm but features an antagonist protagonist, amnesia, and the hot male leads that only JLA can write.
Dangerous Girls by Abigial Haas- If you haven’t read this book, pick it up ASAP and clear your plans for the rest of the day, and a few days after, because this book will give you the craziest book-hangover EVER after the twist at the end.
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin- A thriller trilogy, it constantly hovers near the genres of paranormal and science fiction with eerie supernatural elements mixed with psychological disorders.
Thrillers I Can’t Wait to Read:
Dangerous Boys by Abigial Haas
Made For You by Melissa Marr
Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten
However, I wanted to get the perspective of someone braver than I, so I recruited the dutiful Bookish Boyfriend Max to elaborate upon the merits of horror stories…and what would possess a reader to pick one up (see what I did there?)
In the House of Horrors
I would be remiss if I did not mention the first exposure I got to the horror genre. When I was a kid I picked up Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz (Which is now a lovely box set, by the way.) Since then I’ve been hooked. I love the macabre and the horror genre at its best relies on such things. The best horror stories are not the ones about axe wielding psychos who come screaming out of the woods, but the ones that explore the true horror of being in a hopeless situation with no foreseeable way out. At the end of the best stories, you come away wondering if you would have made it out alive, or despite your vast knowledge of the genre, your own abilities as a person, and the raw dumb luck it takes away to dodge the kills. I’ll admit that most of my horror expertise lies in movies (and games), but check below for some scary suggestions. As Amy Lukavics said as I walked away with my signed copy of her new book, Daughters unto Devils, “Be afraid.”
Horror Suggestions: (Not a beginner’s list. This is the deep end, folks)
It by Stephen King- (10 pounds of Nope in a five pound bag)
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris- (Try to sleep a night through after this one)
Mostly Ghostly by Steve Zorn- It wears the skin of a kids book but has some truly horrifying tales inside. Good luck getting a copy though. It’s rare now.
Are you a thriller or a horror fan?
Do you fall firmly on one side of the debate, or are you an equal opportunist when it comes to either anxiety or fear? Do you personally feel there’s a large difference in the experience of reading a horror novel and a thriller novel? Do you think books can truly be both, or is there a true difference in the writing execution of a horror and a thriller novel? Do you think that horror and thrillers work in the YA genre, or have the titles in the adult or children’s sections resonated with you more? Let me know in the comments!
Great post! I am a huge horror movie and novel fanatic, particularly once October rolls around each year. It wasn’t until this past year, however, that I began to develop a similar appreciation for the thriller genre, having previously associated it too closely with the mystery genre to find any interest in it. I think there are definitely a few books that blur the lines between thriller and horror novels due, but for the most part, they remain two separate entities.
Thank you, Olivia! I think you are the only one who has commented so far who appreciates horror as well as Thrillers. What are you horror recommendations for those of us (like myself, haha) who need to ease into the genre? I can see your point about thrillers and mysteries (now that I think about it, I’m hard pressed to think of a thriller that wasn’t also a mystery..) and I feel like mysteries are a genre that seems to elicit very strong responses from readers (I typically like them, but I’m very picky about the mystery authors that I like).
I really enjoy thrillers. I’m easily scared by horror, but for some reason I can cope more with psychological thrillers. Perhaps I’m scared of all things supernatural and gory, but I can deal with my mind being messed with. I highly recommend Dangerous Girls too. It’s SO good.
Have you gotten a chance to read Dangerous Boys yet? I own it but haven’t gotten around to it, and I’m scared it won’t be as good as Dangerous Girls!
I’m definitely on the side of thrillers here. I just can’t handle horrors – never been able to – movies, books, tv… So basically, I can enjoy a good psychological, twist mystery, but physical gore and terror freaks me out.
Yes yes yes I am SO not one for physical gore (you will never, ever catch me watching a movie like Saw) or even really disturbing things that have to do with ghosts/hauntings etc (I can take stories with such subject matter in small does).
I love this! I’m not a horror type of gal, at all. I don’t even have a shelf for it on Goodreads for the OFF CHANCE I decide to read one. I like mysteries and thrillers sometimes. It definitely depends on my mood. I don’t like to be scared but I’m okay with being a little creeped out. I enjoy putting the pieces together and trying to solve the mystery, even though I’m terrible at it.
I don’t do horror at all either! The only times I’ve watched “horror” movies has been when my friends have convinced me, and even then they’ve been sort of campy horror movies that we made fun of the whole time (like “Scream”). I’m with you on not liking to be scared at all, but that unsettling feeling thrillers can give you can be fun!
I am a big fan of thrillers but don’t really read horror stories. I find thrillers so addicting if they are done well. The whole edge of your seat, not knowing what is going on feeling is the best. I still need to read Dangerous Girls but it is on my list. Great topic!!
Dangerous Girls is AMAZING. Have you read Dangerous Boys yet? I need to get to it, but I feel like I need to wait until I have a few clear days on my schedule so I can really focus on it- thrillers are books I don’t want to have to read in a lot of short, choppy sessions.
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I really enjoy reading a good thriller, but I don’t read them that often and I have no idea why. Perhaps because I have trouble finding good young adult ones? I do love the Mara dyer series and Dangerous Girls! As for horror, I don’t really read a whole lot in that genre at all. I am such a scaredy cat! I am willing to read a horror novel if someone I really trust tells me to give one a try.
I never noticed until you mentioned it, but I’m the same way- I LOVE thrillers but I really only read them sporadically. Perhaps it’s because they such an emotional investment that I have to really be in the right mind frame to read them? I definitely don’t want to read a thriller when I only have a few minutes to read here and there, as it sort of ruins the experience!