Halloween is here, and what better way to get in the mood than curling up with some chilling and thrilling reads? We’ve compiled some of our favorite books for this scary season—featuring ghosts and witches, darkly reimagined fairy tales, a house that traps us in its grip, and a blizzard that infiltrates our minds. From Miles Hyman’s graphic novel adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s iconic story “The Lottery,” to Jac Jemc’s psychological thriller The Grip of It and Lindsey Fitzharris’s new book about the grisly world of Victorian surgery, these books cover everything from blood and gore to the kind of scare that stalks you silently. Prepare to be tested and left reeling.
Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” by Miles Hyman
This graphic novel adaptation of Jackson’s timeless and haunting story “The Lottery” uses vivid imagery to bring to life its core themes—questions about conformity, tradition and ritualized violence. Hyman is Shirley Jackson’s grandson, and his adaptation is a tribute that helps us discover it anew, putting us inside the eerie village and presenting it in all its horrors in full-color meticulous detail. We have no choice but to watch the harrowing ritual that unfolds.
The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt
This is acclaimed novelist Samantha Hunt’s first collection of short stories, and with them she blends the literary and the fantastic and brings us characters on the verge—girls turning into women, women turning into deer, people doubling or becoming ghosts. These dreamlike stories grab us and continue to stalk us after the final page, pushing the bounds of the expected and imagining numerous ways the weird might push its way through the mundane.
People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry
In the summer of 2000, Lucie Blackman, a tall, blond, twenty-one year old, stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo and disappeared. The next winter, her dismembered remains were found buried in a seaside cave. Richard Lloyd Parry investigated Lucie’s disappearance tirelessly over 10 years and delved into the mind of the man accused of the crime. This true crime masterpiece weaves together the unfolding of the investigation and ponders violence, trauma, and a quest for resolution.
The Grip of It by Jac Jemc
This stunning and sharply written horror novel will leave you breathless as it builds upon its own sense of unease. A couple moves into a new house in the suburbs, ready for a fresh start. Yet this house has its own plans for the unsuspecting couple. Strange things start happening—the framework decays before their eyes, stains on the walls expand and contract—the house torments this couple and traps them in its grip. As readers, we, too are helpless as the blurry lines between the real and imagined infiltrate our own perception. As Electric Literature writes, The Grip of It “stalks the reader through its pages with a silent, grayscale terror, like the brush of a web against your cheek in the dark.” Perhaps embracing the madness is the only way out.
The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris
Fitzharris’ gruesome and grisly look at Victorian surgery comes just in time for Halloween; prepare yourself for saws, maggots and lots of blood. This gripping story looks at how Joseph Lister’s antiseptic method changed the history of medicine, eradicating the early operating theaters where surgeons rarely cleaned tools and where speed and brute strength were lauded. This book is visceral and full of morbid detail while also incredibly informative, illuminating one man’s quest to bring medicine into the modern age. This one isn’t for the squeamish!
Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
This chilling thriller takes us into the small town of Nevada, Iowa in the late 1990s. Jeremy works at the local video store, where customers suddenly start returning tapes with complaints that they include disquieting out-of-place footage. A once tranquil town becomes the sight of something sinister and foreboding, and Jeremy embarks on a journey into the heart of the mystery, piecing together the clues of the tapes but unsure what he will find.
The Day She Disappeared by Christobel Kent
One day Beth disappears. Few think anything of it, assuming she’s run off with a man. Only her best friend Natalie is convinced that something more sinister is going on. Victor, a patron of the bar Beth and Natalie work at, has fallen and ended up in the hospital, and he also questions Beth’s disappearance. As hazy memories start coming back to him, he realizes there’s something menacing haunting his mind, something just out of grasp. Kent’s writing builds a world that is unsettling, intricate, and claustrophobic—one that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis
This postmodern classic blends the gothic novel with gripping science fiction as it explores questions of control, death, and the limits of compassion. The followers of a mad nineteenth-century Prussian surgeon create a haunted race of genetically and biomechanically uplifted canines that possess human intelligence and speak our language. The monster dogs were created to be super soldiers, but they rebel against their masters, forced to confront the tragedy of their brief existence and doomed to watch their race become extinct.
Normal by Warren Ellis
In this thrilling sci-fi mystery, there are people whose job it is to think professionally about the future. Yet staring into the future takes its toll: depression sets in, mental illness festers. And then there’s abyss gaze. Stare into the abyss all day and the abyss will gaze into you, and then it’s off to the “Normal” facility to be treated. Ellis unfolds a world worryingly close to our own that examines how and why we think about the future.
Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy
After the body of a young girl is found mangled and murdered in the woods of Hemlock Grove, PA, a manhunt ensues, and a cast of creepy characters make up the list of potential suspects—from a kid who claims he’s a werewolf to an escapee from a biotech facility running unethical experiments. At once a riveting mystery and a fascinating revelation of the grotesque and dark that exists in us all, Hemlock Grove reinvents the gothic novel, filled with iconic characters that twist and reimagine the monster archetypes of our nightmares.
The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin
In the village of Dolgoye, a mysterious epidemic is turning people into zombies. Garin, a district doctor, possesses the vaccine that will prevent the spread of this disease, but an impenetrable blizzard keeps him from reaching the village. What should be a simple trip becomes a metaphysical nightmare, a dark odyssey filled with strange encounters, dangerous escapades, and torturous imaginings. Sorokin’s inventive and hypnotic writing brings to life a post-apocalyptic landscape that is at once violently unforgiving and a springboard for endless ideas and imaginings.
Witches of America by Alex Mar
This memoir takes us into Alex Mar’s five-year trip into the occult, as both a journalist and a person in search of her own faith. The book tracks the roots of Paganism, takes us to a gathering of more than a thousand witches in Illinois, and traces Mar’s decision to immerse herself in this world and train in a coven herself. As we enter this mysterious realm of witchcraft, we are forced to examine why we choose to believe in anything at all, how we invent self, and how we grapple with a search for meaning within the mundane—even, and especially, if this search takes us to unexpected places.
The Whispering Muse by Sjón
The year is 1949 and Valdimar Haraldsson, an eccentric Icelander interested in the impact of fish consumption on Nordic civilization, has been invited aboard a Danish merchant ship traveling the Black Sea. Disguised as the second mate is the mythical hero Caeneus, who tells entrancing tales of how he sailed the fabled vessel with the Argonauts to retrieve the Golden Fleece. This melodic and magical novel intertwines myth and the modern world in a literary voice so singular as to seem possessed.
Babayaga by Toby Barlow
Barlow crafts a supernatural spy thriller that People calls “a fun brew of witches, CIA spies, and fraught romance.” In 1950s Paris, strange things are afoot and nothing (and no one) is as it seems. Barlow introduces a wild cast of characters, from the enchanting witch Zoya, who impaled her ex-lover on a spike, to Inspector Vidot, who finds himself turned into a flea. Babayaga takes the reader on a madcap adventure through this brilliant and wickedly sharp tale.
A Wild Swan by Michael Cunningham
Cunningham reimagines and modernizes classic fairytales, giving them a dark twist. These are the moments that our fairy tales forgot or deliberately concealed: the years after a spell is broken, the rapturous instant of a miracle unexpectedly realized, or the fate of a prince only half cured of a curse. Rarely have our bedtime stories been this dark, this perverse, or this true.
A Better Angel by Chris Adrian
In this collection of stories Adrian delves into human suffering—illness, regret, mourning—in unexpected ways. The characters that breathe life into these stories are both living and dead, at once otherworldly and painfully human. The result is a haunting work of beauty and wit.
The Faithful Executioner by Joel F. Harrington
These writings of a Renaissance-era executioner were hidden away in a journal in a dusty German bookshop until author Joel F. Harrington stumbled upon them. In this intimate journal, Meister Frantz Schmidt kept descriptions of the 394 people he executed and the hundreds more he tortured, flogged, or disfigured in Nuremberg. The man that emerges from these descriptions, though an outcast from his society, is full of insight and empathy.
The Immortalization Commission by John Gray
Political philosopher and critic John Gray offers a brilliant and frightening look at humankind’s dangerous striving toward a scientific version of immortality. The book traces historical accounts of philosophers, journalists, politicians, and mass murderers whose revolts against death often proved dangerous, their post-Darwinian beliefs posing a threat to the very nature of what it means to be human.