Do you like thrillers? Stories so intense they keep you up at night or only let you sleep with the lights on? If so, thriller author Kelly Charron is sharing some of her top picks with you.
My Three Favorite Thriller Novels
By Kelly Charron
Picking three top thriller novels of all time is beyond difficult. I was attempting to narrow my list down and found that it kept growing instead. Look for my list of honorable mentions at the end.
Seeing that I also write thrillers, it’s easy to understand why I love reading them, though I might look at them a bit differently. As an author, it’s in my nature to instinctively analyze any given book I’m reading, so I get very excited when a novel is so engrossing that I forget about the mechanics and fall blissfully into the story. The books on my list did this with ease, captivating me, challenging my perspectives, and allowing me to lose myself completely in the incredible worlds these authors have created.
The criteria for these picks are:
- The story must have a strong initial impact on me, but that impact must remain for years after.
- The ambiance must be so well developed that it acts as another character.
- The characters must suck me in so that it feels like I’m experiencing everything firsthand.
I think it’s best to do this in reverse countdown 😉
3) The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Plot: On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.
On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.
Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…
What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?
In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.
The book is written in lyrical prose that straddles both literary and thriller genre composition and expectations. The atmosphere is dark, gritty and needy with characters that are highly flawed, drawing on every ounce of empathy you have as you picture what you would do in each of these character’s situations. I love a tale of moral ambiguity with characters who react with raw passion instead of thoughtful, meticulous decision making. Where no one is truly innocent.
The author juxtaposes the dark settings brilliantly, weaving the reader back and forth in time between an intensive ballet school and a juvenile correctional facility. We are immediately drawn into two intense worlds of survival. One a cutthroat dance academy that pits teenage girls full of insecurities and desperation to ‘be someone’ and stand out among their peers and to prove themselves worthy (at any cost); the other an isolated and eerie prison where each day is a struggle to keep a hold one’s true self and not believe the horrible labels thrust upon you.
Throw in a murder, a few secrets, an undercurrent of supernatural creepiness, and a little backstabbing and I’m in love.
2) The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
Plot: West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.
Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.
This is another brilliant story written with alternating timelines, which shift between the early 1900s and 2000s. I read this book after a close friend recommended it to me. I’d never heard of the author, but the cover alone had me intrigued. The are many reasons why this novel has remained with me. McMahon is a master storyteller who definitely knows how to create an eerie atmosphere and amp up the tension. It had a gothic ambiance—old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, snow storms that trap you inside, and a deadly supernatural entity. It’s a quintessential rural ghost story mixed with a modern-day thriller. The book’s small-town characters attempt to keep their secrets, as well as their local folklore, hidden from visitors, even if that means explaining away the people that go missing from there on a semi-regular basis.
The author succeeds in painting two full worlds full of haunting suspense and mystery and then connecting all the pieces in ways you never saw coming. While not a traditional thriller, but more of a subtle literary horror, I was still left with the satisfying feeling of being pleasantly creeped out.
1) Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Plot: Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.
Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?
This book left me speechless. Until I wasn’t, upon which I told everyone I could about this book. Where do I start? Malerman has accomplished a feat with this novel in that he told this story largely in a way that the majority of thriller/horror novels have never attempted—he barely uses the character’s sight to describe the action. In a world where looking outside is dangerous, possibly even deadly, Malerman plays upon our fear by blacking out much of the world leaving the reader primarily with touch and sound to navigate through this frightening story. It was such a uniquely compelling device that I never knew I needed and wish I’d thought of first.
I was nervous and at times even scared (which is difficult to accomplish since I’m so desensitized by now) because of the way he successfully brings you into the body and mind of these terrorized and often helpless characters. Though one of the things I admired most about this book was that the characters may seem paralyzed, they never remain helpless. He brings the main characters to the brink of madness, terror, and failure but then quickly pulls them back leaving the reader breathless.
I loved this book and now that I think of it, Bird Box deserves a re-read, ASAP.
Honorable mentions (and would be on the list if I had more room)
- The Hypnotist by Lars Keplar
- Misery by Stephen King
- Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics
- The Sacred Lies of Minnow by Stephanie Oaks
- Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
On my TBR pile:
Thrillers on my TBR pile that I can’t wait to read:
- Final Girls by Riley Sager
- Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
- Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn
- Ten by Gretchen McNeil
- The Masked Truth by Kelley Armstrong
How about you? What novels make your spine tingle? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author
Kelly Charron is the author of adult and YA thrillers including Pretty Wicked and Wicked Fallout. She is currently working on a YA urban fantasy series based on a secret underground society of witches. Think of a merging of the movies, The Craft meet The Skulls.
You can find her books here:
Pretty Wicked https://goo.gl/EP2GQ8
Pretty Wicked is a mature YA thriller intended for ages 16 and up. More information ere: Pretty Wicked by @KellyMCharron.
Wicked Fallout https://t.co/M8QBtxyhME
Wicked Fallout is a pulse-pounding thrill ride for fans of Chevy Stevens and Gillian Flynn. *While is it a sequel to Pretty Wicked, it can be read independently.
Blurb: Convicted of six murders when she was just fifteen, the notorious Ryann Wilkanson hasn’t been able to act on her darkest, deadliest urges for twelve years. She’s exhausted her appeals and has little hope of ever getting out of prison and back to hunting.
Until a media-hungry legal team mounts a campaign to have her immediately released with a commuted sentence.
Forensic psychiatrist Nancy Clafin has mere weeks to evaluate Ryann’s current mental state against her grisly past to determine if she’s changed. But under the shadow of her own questionable history, it’s not easy to separate her personal life from her professional duty.
At least that’s what Ryann is counting on.
Behind the cold steel doors of a Colorado maximum-security prison, will Nancy find a cold-blooded killer or a newly redeemed woman determined to right her past wrongs?