Happy Fall and Spooky Halloween to you! As the air turns colder and the nights get darker, it’s time to turn to your favorite evening solace: horror stories. But do you really want to read The Shining or The Haunting of Hill House again? Why don’t we mix it up with some fresh horror to drive your nightmares and have you researching new alarm systems late into the night? Check out these ten quirky horror novels, graphic novels, and short story anthologies fit to sate the bloodlust of any horror lover.
10 Horrorstör—Grady Hendrix
Picture this: IKEA but with ancient ghosts who want to torture you all through the night shift. Intrigued? Then Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix should be next on your reading list. This novel is printed and bound like an IKEA catalog, complete with renderings of the perfect torture device to spruce up your living space. My personal favorites include the Ingalutt (an easy-to-use waterboarding device) and the Bodavest (a full-body chair restraint that will leave guests feeling deeply traumatized).
Set up like a classic haunted house story, Horrorstör creates an entirely unique setting by placing its victims in the Orsk furniture superstore, conveniently located in Cleveland, Ohio. Each morning, employees enter the store to find damaged merchandise, but security cameras reveal nothing out of the ordinary. When three employees volunteer to take the night shift and catch the vandals in the act, they end up facing a deepening horror that includes hundreds of grasping hands, back-breaking claustrophobia, and shockingly creepy baby furniture.
9 The Hollow Places—T. Kingfisher
If you’ve read anything by T. Kingfisher (also known as Ursula Vernon), you know she does good work. In recent years, she’s begun writing adult horror novels, and boy, do they give you an exceptional blend of quirky and scary. In The Hollow Places, Kingfisher combines grotesque and hilarious with an engaging mix of fascinating characters and evolving settings that just keep getting worse.
The story begins with our recently divorced and consequently homeless protagonist, Kara (Carrot to her friends). To get back on her feet, she moves in with her aging Uncle Earl and his Museum of Wonder, where she is eventually left to run the place on her own as her uncle is hospitalized for knee surgery. If the setting wasn’t weird enough, it only gets more bizarre when Carrot and Simon, the barista next door, find a hidden portal to another world filled with endless doors to your worst nightmares. Get ready for shadow creatures, horrifying bunkers, and a deranged assortment of taxidermied animals.
3 The Southern Bookclub’s Guide to Slaying Vampires—Grady Hendrix
Yes, another Grady Hendrix novel, but you would be hard-pressed to find another author writing the unique and imaginative horror novels that are now filling my bookshelf. In The Southern Bookclub’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Hendrix casts a group of characters that have been all but forgotten by everyone except Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias: high-strung Southern women.
But before you keep scrolling, you need to give this book a chance. Do you like rabid old women who’ll bite your ear off in your own yard? Check. Interested in being trapped in the attic of a confirmed killer after just finding a dead body stuffed in a suitcase? Check. How about full-body dismemberment? Check, from head to toe!
In The Southern Bookclub’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, these mothers’ worst worries are completely true as their true crime book club becomes the headquarters for outing the new man in town—who just happens to be a vampire with a taste for children. But I’ve said too much! Read this book for yourself, and you’ll find one of the quirkiest horror novels on the shelves today.
7 A Taste for Monsters—Matthew J. Kirby
There has to be one historical novel on this list because everything was horrifying in the late 19th century when some people’s plumbing was pooping in a bucket and throwing it outside. But let’s not linger on that particular mental image. Matthew Kirby’s A Taste for Monsters is set in 1888 London, and our leading lady, Evelyn, is left struggling for work after being facially disfigured from working in a matchstick factory. (I’ll leave researching those historical horrors to your own discretion.) She ends up as the hospital maid for Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, a real historical figure who suffered from his own deformities.
But this is no dull historical retelling. A Taste for Monsters earns its horror genre as the ghosts of Jack the Ripper’s victims begin to visit Evelyn and the Elephant Man. From the tortured ghosts to the evil shadow of Jack the Ripper, this novel is sufficiently creepy to keep you up at night but is still cast with a unique blend of characters and setting. If you like your horror with a dab of true crime and historical accuracy, you need to pick up this novel.
6 Mexican Gothic—Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“These white men are!” You are so right, Pocohantas’s dad. If only Noemí Taboada from Mexican Gothic knew that before she decided to take an extended trip to her cousin’s sprawling and decaying mansion deep in the Mexican countryside. Well, they say experience is the best teacher, so she probably won’t make that same mistake again.
Mexican Gothic takes the cake for quirky horror because of its alluring combination of creepy yet hot Englishman antagonists, decaying old money charm, and a houseguest that may or may not want to turn you into a living puppet. As Noemí races to rescue her cousin from the disease that seems to have already taken every member of the household, she’ll discover that going insane like the rest of them would have been much easier than coming to terms with the terrifying reality.
5 Ninth House—Leigh Bardugo
Yeah, yeah, uber-rich people who maintain their wealth for decades are part of secret occult societies. Tell me something I don’t know. But what if you were a nobody, former drug addict, witness to multiple homicides, and suddenly got inducted into this world most of us can only guess at? Well, this is what happens to Alex Stern, our protagonist in Ninth House.
So starts Alex’s eerie windfall full-ride at Yale as she discovers how magic, ghosts, and the disappearance of her mentor, Darlington, all combine to answer the questions that deeply haunt and scar her. You’ll love discovering for yourself why Ninth House gives an interesting new take on quirky horror.
4 The Coldest Girl in Coldtown—Holly Black
In The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, vampires are no longer creatures of myth and mystery; they are citizens of the United States. But not to worry, the government found a solution. Just put all the vampires in their own heavily barricaded city and put all the bad humans in there too. Elegant. Except for our protagonist, Tana, who finds herself forced to infiltrate the city with her annoying ex-boyfriend and intriguing—obviously vampiric—friend who’s a boy.
As the story progresses, we meet a growing list of fascinating side characters and get to experience the grotesque opulence of Coldtown. In this unique horror novel, there is plenty of gore and violence to keep your interest and a dark, grand reveal that leaves you locked in a small room with a dangerous creature on the book’s last page.
3 Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales—Various Authors
I don’t know about you, but I love a modern retelling of classic literature and fairy tales. If you do, too, pick up Rags and Bones, an anthology of eighteen short stories from various authors, including Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Tim Pratt. This anthology runs the gamut from horror to fantasy to dystopian fiction, twisting classic tales into unique, barely recognizable versions of themselves.
But you’re here for the horror! That’s why I recommend taking a look at “That the Machine May Progress Eternally” by Carrie Ryan and “The Sleeper and the Spindle” by Neil Gaiman. These two stories take on “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forrester and the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, creating haunting and unique new stories to tempt every horror lover.
2 Fangs—Sarah Anderson
Okay, so the subject matter does not exactly qualify this graphic novel as horror but hear me out. Fangs features comic vignettes of a vampire-werewolf couple as they experience life together. What a beautifully unique premise! Plus, vampires and werewolves are historically known to haunt the horror genre and remain scary in their own right.
Let yourself be taken in by Elsie the vampire and Jimmy the werewolf as they learn cohabitation, what can and cannot be eaten for dinner, and decide their future together. The shameless exploitation of vampire/werewolf stereotypes and dark humor will have you laughing all the way through this charming graphic novel.
1 Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies—Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Do you delight in the classic love stories of Jane Austen but wish there was more cannibalism? Check out Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies by Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith. Here, you will get to fall in love with Mr. Darcy again, just like it’s the first time, while he battles alongside Elizabeth Bennett to keep troublesome zombies from interrupting another afternoon tea. I mean, nothing gets me in the mood for courting better than rotting flesh.
More than just being an incredibly unique take on classic literature, this novel is fun. Give Lady Catherine de Bourgh an army of ninjas. Have every character vomiting over any disruption. Let only the best-reared young ladies study martial arts and sword fighting from Chinese masters. Don’t overthink it; let Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies be your next gory romp!
And on that note, if you ever have a few extra dollars lying around, I highly recommend watching the movie version of Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies. Maybe the worst movie I’ve ever seen and an absolute delight from beginning to end.