Scary-story season is finally upon us! Some books are magical, others are simply mind-boggling. Either way, if you’re a lover of all books dark and deceptive, look no further than this list of reads with twists and turns you won’t see coming.
Ninth House, by Leigh Bardugo
In her first adult novel, Bardugo casts a vicious spell about the dangers of secret societies and trauma, unrestrained. Her (anti)heroine, Alex, arrives at Yale brimming with the possibility of a second chance after a horrific upbringing and adolescence, the pain of survivorship—including a recent homicide, still unsolved—all over her. There is, of course, a catch: the mysterious financiers of her new education expect Alex to spy on the multiple secret societies across campus. What will happen when Alex finds herself being drawn in past the point of no return—and when she discovers that those secret societies do more than just dabble in magic that can raise the dead? Full of shocking revelations and jaw-dropping descriptions, this is the perfect scary read for an adventurous reader.
Toil and Trouble (A Memoir), Augusten Burroughs
You may recall the memoir Running with Scissors, about Augusten Burroughs’ chaotic upbringing, in which he was abandoned by his mother to be raised by her psychiatrist. But Augusten had more twists up his sleeve to share, including the fact that he is a witch, descended from a long line of people with uncanny abilities. Written in his typical hilarious but poignant style, this story won’t give you nightmares (other than the kind you might discuss in a therapist’s office) but it will shock and surprise you with each passing page.
Middlegame, by Seanan Maguire
A thrilling, sharply-written sci-fi thriller about two people, Roger and Dodger, who meet as children—except, they don’t actually ‘meet’. They communicate through one another’s minds, part of some invisible inexplicable connection the two of them share that no one else can see. But that connection is not invisible, nor inexplicable—it’s scientific, deliberate, and quite diabolical. They aren’t really ‘children’ at all, but pawns in an experiment devised by an alchemist who believes that the secret to true power—and the key to a lost city—relies on Roger and Dodger being kept apart. As Roger and Dodger grow, become determined to meet, and then determine that being close could endanger the entire world, each page brings a new revelation written in perfect, almost alchemical prose.
The Water Dancer, by Ta Nehisi-Coates
Another paranormal story about powers beyond a character’s control. In this stunning fiction debut from celebrated nonfiction writer Coates, readers will meet Hiram, who is blessed—and cursed—with a power that has saved his life after almost drowning. He has no memory of his mother, who was sold and separated from him. All he knows is that he is going to escape his bondage, and that this power will help him. A sweeping saga that spans the US, describing its original sin of slavery as witnessed through Hiram’s eyes, The Water Dancer is full of shock and suspense, perhaps the most important of which is that we continue to be shocked by the atrocities of slavery, despite hearing them over and over again—making this novel even more essential reading.
Imaginary Friend, by Stephen Chbosky
Might I interest you in a bit of horror for your Halloween? When a single mom and her seven year-old son settle in a small town, the hope is that they can just blend in. Forget about the past: the abusive husband she escaped, and how long they’ve spent on the run. But when the child goes missing, his mother fears the worst. More than merely a shocking plot, Chbosky’s emotional prose threatens to reveal the worst truths about ourselves…but the plot itself is shocking, too, especially when the child returns unharmed—save the imaginary friend inside his head.
Wild Game, by Adrienne Brodeur
Some stories are so shocking, they have to be fictional, right? Not this memoir, about a girl who becomes her mother’s accomplice in keeping secret an affair with her father’s closet friend. The relationships daughters and mothers share can be magical and mysterious, as Adrienne learns through her experiences worshiping and fearing her own mother, Malabar, especially as the affair in which she is a participant reaches a calamitous, shocking crescendo.
After the Flood, by Kassandra Montag
The world is flooding. That’s not just what the science says, that’s what has already happened in this speculative debut thriller in which a woman is reeling from the abduction of her daughter by her own father while their home flooded in Nebraska. It’s seven years later and Myra is still searching for Row, the daughter she lost, all while trying to care for Pearl, the daughter she has left…in a world of water, where society has crumbled beneath the waves. Desperate for hope, Myra will do anything to reunite her family, but will it be worth the violence and betrayal? Seriously, this story has shocker after shocker, and just when you think you know how it will end, the tide turns.
The Chestnut Man, by Soren Sveistrup
Scandinavian thriller fans, meet: the Chestnut Man. In Copenhagen, he is killing seemingly at whim, leaving behind tokens of his villainy in the form of dolls made of matchsticks and chestnuts. When fingerprints are found on one of the dolls, a team of detectives with an axe to grind must team up and find the killer. What you think is a straight procedural murder mystery is full of layers and depth—with a female detective at the helm, and an ending that will almost shock the life out of you.