Readers’ Advisory: Supernatural Thrillers With Female Leads

A friend of mine texted me this very wheelhousey RA question a while back…and I was very very excited.

“Hey! I need a book recommendation and I figured you were just the lady I should ask. Do you know of any good thriller type books to recommend? Something real disturbing. Preferably with a kickass female lead. Maybe supernatural?”

I only sent her a handful of the books below, but I thought I would expand the list here! In addition to her female lead request, I also made all of my recommendations written by women as well. I’ve read most of these, and the ones I haven’t gotten to yet I have sitting on my bookshelves, waiting for me to dive in!

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: As you know, Shirley Jackson is my queen, and this is one of my all-time favorite books! Not so scary and intense as some of the others on the list, but it’s definitely got a creeping dread thing going on! A group of paranormally-inclined folks are invited to a haunted mansion for some testing by a scientist. Each person has their own set of baggage, but the book focuses on Nelly who was caretaker to her sick mom for her entire adult life. Now she’s finally free, but man is she fucked up. The house has serious effects on her. It also prompted a lot of thought for me. It’s beautifully written, and the female characters are interesting.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier: Also one of my favorites (ok, these all are). It’s slower paced and similar in vibe to Hill House, but creepy as all fuck and beautifully written. A young woman is swept off her feet by a mysterious rich dude and marries him on the spot while on vacation. He takes her home to his mansion where the “ghost” of his dead first wife is everywhere. The new wife has to discover the evil behind Rebecca and put it to rest before Rebecca ruins her life. I also recommend Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel, but I haven’t personally read that one yet.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire: This is a quick, fun, twisted fantastical romp! The first in a series, Every Heart a Doorway follows Nancy as she enters a new school for kids who come back from different worlds they stumbled on. It’s like if Alice came back from Wonderland and was not adjusting well, so she goes to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children for rehabilitation. Each kid at the Home went to a different type of world, and each kid is struggling in their own unique way now that they’re back in their home world. Nancy’s world was one of death and darkness, and shortly after she shows up at the Home, death does too. Children are being picked off one by one in gruesome ways. Is it Nancy?

The Likeness by Tana French: I am a massive Tana French fan, so I recommend everything she writes! Not many of her books feature a female lead, however. The Likeness is technically the second book in her Dublin Murder Squad series (can be read in whatever order, though), and does happen to fit the bill for this readers’ advisory question. French’s books are all dark and twisted, but this one really sinks into the dark psychological creeping dread feeling that I love so much. It features Detective Cassie Maddox in a strange case of stolen identity, her stolen identity to be exact. A young woman is found dead, and she looks so close in appearance to Cassie that they could be twins. Not only that, but she’s carrying an ID with a name on it that Cassie used to use when she was working undercover. Cassie goes back undercover to figure out what exactly is going on, and gets mixed up in some serious weirdness!

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware: Any of Ruth Ware’s books could probably end up on this list and fit in, but Mrs. Westaway is her newest and most gothic in style. Hitting the Rebecca vibes hard, this thriller features a dead woman, an estate, a case of mistaken identity, a con-woman, and haunting house, and an even more haunting truth. I have this one sitting on my bookshelves, but I’ve been saving it for a special occasion so I haven’t actually read it yet. I’m enjoying the anticipation, however.

White is for Witching by Helen Oyoyemi: Haunted house alert!! This is a creepy af modern gothic tale by a powerhouse author. Miranda’s mom is missing, leaving her with her twin brother and father in a creepy haunted house. There is definitely something up with the house…it’s disorienting, it’s controlling life in weird ways, and generations of spirits seems to be trapped within its walls. Miranda, who develops a new habit of eating chalk, becomes increasingly attuned to the ghost of women who inhabit the house. Her attachment is so great, in fact, that she starts to leave her own world behind.

The Good House by Tananarive Due: Annnddd another haunted house (Sheesh! It’s almost like there’s shit we could say about women-centered horror and domesticity or something, yikes). Years after a horrible family tragedy occurs in her grandmother’s home, Angela Toussaint returns to the The Good House to discover once and for all what happened on that fateful day. What she uncovers will pull her into a world of demons and magic, and she begins to wonder who her grandmother actually was. This is one of the ones I haven’t read yet, but I am very very excited to crack it open!

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link: Kelly Link is such an incredible writer, beloved by readers and fellow writers alike. She write weird-ass shit too, which is a wonderful bonus hahaha. This is her first story collection and covers all manner of creepy, odd, and twisted topics. There are ghosts, aliens, oddities, and more! But as an added bonus, these stories are all happy. They’re spooky for sure, but they will uplift you in the end. I thought it would be good to add this to the list to help lighten the mood without actually straying from the genre path. Also, everyone should read Kelly Link!

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn: This is a super short ghost story that you can read in an evening, and wowza! I mean, you’ve heard of Gillian Flynn. You know her work, even if you haven’t read it. Maybe you’ve watched an adaptation or two of her books. She’s a master of twisted, messed up stories featuring complicated women, and The Grownup is no exception. The main character is a con-woman by way of fortuneteller, much like the main character in Mrs. Westaway. One day, a woman comes in with a problem: her stepson is giving her serious Damien from the Omen vibes and she think it’s the house they’re living in. She wants the main character to come bless the house, so she does. She starts up regular house visits and goes through bullshit rituals to cleanse the house, and the entire time it’s happening the step son is getting creepier and creepier. The story ends with a monster twist, and it leaves you very very unsettled because you will never know the truth.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon: This book fucked me up! The ending is kind of blah, but holy shit, 80% of the book has me terrified! A single mom and her two daughters live in a remote farmhouse in Vermont in a town with a really weird history. One morning, she disappears leaving her oldest to figure out what’s going on. Her oldest finds an old journal hidden in her house that starts to talk about some really fucked up paranormal happenings, and then things get batshit crazy. This book had me jumpy!

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes: A serial killer travels through time to kill his targets, the shining girls. And then he tried to get Kirby, but she eludes him and goes on the offensive. This book is so twisty and wild! I absolutely loved it! I also recommend anything by Beukes, especially on audiobook.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado: This short story collection is creepy with a dose of body horror. It examines womanhood and its place in society, and most of the stories are LGBTQIA+. It’s absolutely stunning. One of my ultimate favorites!

So that’s what I’ve got, ladies! There are definitely more good ones out there. What are your favorites? Does anyone else have any good recommendations to add?

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