Meet Sabrina Spellman. She’s the new girl at school, dealing with the typical problems of dating, peer pressure and trying to get a part in the school play. But now that she’s turning 16, she faces an even more important rite of passage — signing her name in the Devil’s book. Wait, what? Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by author Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrator Robert Hack embraces historical depictions of witchcraft, goat sacrifices and all, in its depiction of the usually jolly witch from Archie Comics. So ’90s nostalgists beware: This Sabrina resembles Melissa Joan Hart about as much as Melissa Joan Hart resembles Black Phillip from the film The Witch.
This companion series to the similarly horrific Afterlife with Archie is just as satisfying but more subtle and psychological, with allusions to Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury in place of Sam Raimi and George Romero. But both series deserve to be read if for no other reason than they’re the only horror stories that you can read and witness the characters being traumatized or mutilated, and then go and can revisit with the original Archie and his gang getting ice cream and having a swell time as a chaser in the Archie Superstar series.
This collection also includes a reprint of the original Madam Satan series from the ’40s in which the title character seduces men and kills them with a kiss, while an angelic monk on a donkey attempts to thwart her from leading men away from the path of righteousness. It really is something. You’d think an old man on a donkey isn’t quite the hard sell that a supernaturally attractive bride of Satan is, but you’d be surprised.
If you tore through Netflix’s Stranger Things as quickly as I did and are craving more nostalgia-inducing science fiction, look no further than Paper Girls. Created by an all-star team including Brian K. Vaughan of Saga fame and Cliff Chiang, the artist behind Wonder Woman, Paper Girls is a coming-of-age story that reads like the twisted result of a partnership between John Hughes and John Carpenter.
Four preteen newspaper delivery girls trying to make their rounds early the morning after Halloween are met with hurdles in the form of costumed bullies, overbearing local police and mysterious masked figures with secrets aplenty. Those familiar with Vaughan’s work will recognize his signature oddball brand of science fiction here; the truly bizarre is interwoven with the ordinary in a way that brings out the best in both. The interactions between the paper girls and the surreal and strange characters they meet result in some of the snappiest dialogue I’ve ever read; this pre-teen gang genuinely feel like they fell right out of your favorite '80s movie and into this book.
Cliff Chiang reunites with colorist Matt Wilson here to create a truly dreamy nostalgic landscape. The almost flat pastel colors lend an ethereal air to the whole book; even the scenes that are grounded in reality have a certain otherworldliness to them that is well suited for the tone of the book.
Grab yourself a Crystal Pepsi, put on John Carpenter’s Lost Themes and prepare to get weird.
A tale of human trafficking and refugees masquerades convincingly as an L.A. noir thriller in Dr. Knox, the latest novel from Shamus Award-winning author Peter Spiegelman. In three previous books featuring banker-turned-detective John March, Spiegelman pretty much created the genre of “Wall Street noir.” Now, he takes that same grim sensibility and applies it to Dr. Adam Knox, a man whose apparent death wish is constantly at war with his desire to save the world. These conflicting goals lead to lots of trouble, not only for Knox, but for his employees and the few friends he has.
In Dr. Knox, a woman fleeing Russian mobsters leaves her little boy at Knox’s shabby clinic in L.A.’s Skid Row. Rather than turn the child over to Social Services, Knox becomes convinced he can save both child and mother. He sets out to do so with the help of his buddy Ben Sutter, a former Special Forces operative. The vibe between these two was very reminiscent of the relationship between Robert Parker's detective, Spenser, and his sidekick, Hawk.
Like that master of L.A. noir, Raymond Chandler, Spiegelman keeps much of the real story bobbing just below the surface throughout this tale. As Knox searches for the boy’s missing mother and runs afoul of mobsters and corrupt American business tycoons, readers get unsettling glimpses into Knox’s own messy backstory. It becomes clear that while the doctor’s heart is in the right place, his penchant for self-destruction could hurt the very people he seeks to help.
Fans of classic noir fiction and old-fashioned “hard-boiled” detective stories should enjoy Dr. Knox.
Dust off your Ouija board, draw a salt circle and prepare to get spooked. The creepiest season of all is upon us, and what better way to celebrate than with six ghastly graphic novels sure to keep you creeped out all month long?
American Vampire follows the often macabre adventures of the immortal bloodsucker Skinner Sweet throughout American history. Look no further for an inventive and twisted take on traditional vampire lore with an ever changing backdrop.
Baltimore is a long-running series that follows the titular character from the horrors of the trenches in WWI to the nightmarish dwelling places of ancient evils, and everywhere in between. This is a masterfully-paced suspense story that just keeps getting better.
Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham is the only superhero book you’ll find on this list, but its quirky combination of classic Batman characters and the otherworldly horrors of H.P. Lovecraft make for a spooky and surreal read.
The Beauty is a new series that imagines conventional physical perfection as a sexually transmitted disease with horrifying side effects. Dealing equally in body horror and suspense, this is an unsettling story that explores the disturbing lengths to which people will go in the name of beauty.
Colder is the story of Declan Thomas, a man with the incredible ability to cure mental illness in others. What Declan doesn’t realize is that his newfound power draws the attention of unsavory entities that seek to undo his work. Feel free to judge these books by their covers, because the frightening artwork that graces them perfectly suits the stories inside.
Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight is a double feature that pays homage to the outlandish B-movies of years long past. “Bee Vixens from Mars” and “Prison Ship Antares” channel the over-the-top absurdity and low budget charm of grindhouse cinema, even down to the fake posters paired with each story.
In Jeffrey Ford’s new collection A Natural History of Hell, there is such a variety of creepiness and at such different comfort levels that I feel I should offer a travel guide to whoever reads this book. Something like:
Here lie straight creeps.
Here’s one night’s lost sleep.
If you read this story you’ll only be able to eat bananas, rice and applesauce for a week.
But for those with an appetite and a broad palate for horror, there’s not likely to be a better book this year.
Many of these stories take place sometime in a Nathaniel Hawthorne-esque past, or other liminal areas where bizarre traditions overtake common sense. The opening story “The Blameless” sets the table, with a couple receiving an invitation to a neighborhood girl’s exorcism. Surprisingly, the couple finds their neighbors celebrating the supposed banishing of a demon with the small-portioned enthusiasm of a bat mitzvah.
Elsewhere, Ford ably glides between genre lines. Some of his stories don’t seem like horror at all until he drops the floor out from under you. For instance, in “The Angel Seems,” an angel comes to a small village offering protection. For a while, the story resembles Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,” and then it turns and you realize it’s been re-written by Clive Barker.
There are also ghost stories, fantasies with dark wizards and even a story about gun control if monsters aren’t scary enough for you. Ford’s use of imagery and violence is implemented masterfully and tastefully throughout, creating an experience that is less like a horror movie than a nightmare weighted with meaning. Have fun!
In the summer of 2008, a Somali sprinter finished last in her heat in Beijing. Almost four years later in the spring of 2012, she drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Italy. Her name was Samia Yusuf Omar.
Giuseppe Catozzella lends his voice to Samia's story, going back to a young 8-year-old girl who longs to be an athlete in Don't Tell Me You're Afraid. Catozzella focuses on the friendship between Samia and her coach, who also happens to be a child and a Darod, named Ali. In order to train, the children go out under the cover of darkness to practice in a bullet ridden stadium. To reach the stadium, Samia and Ali must evade Al-Shabaab's twitchy child soldiers enslaved by a drug named khat. Their efforts pay off, and eventually Samia achieves a national victory. Meanwhile, the city of Mogadishu crumbles and her coach is forced out of town due to his Darod ancestry. Upon her return from Beijing, Samia is faced with the reality that without a proper diet and training she may never become the athlete she was born to become. Then Al-Shabaab strikes. Catozzella deftly conveys the energy and longing that propelled Samia to Beijing and indignity and anguish she endured on the journey.
Reinhard Kleist introduces us to Samia, as she fails in her quest to be one of the greatest sprinters on earth in Beijing, with his stunning illustrations in An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar. Kleist conveys the deep disillusionment on Samia’s face as she realizes she must leave Somali not only to achieve her Olympic Dream but for her own safety. Fans of Kleist’s work will also enjoy his earlier graphic novel The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft.
Readers suffering from Olympic withdrawal can explore the lives of past Olympians by checking out Today We Die a Little!: The Inimitable Emil Zátopek by Richard Askwith or Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schapp.
The Girl on the Train is in theatres now, and audiences are rediscovering the magic of Paula Hawkins’ novel. For those seeking a similar blend of mystery and suspense, our bloggers recommend these titles.
Linda: Like The Girl on the Train, Siracusa by Delia Ephron combines high-stakes suspense with a jaundiced look at relationships. Two married couples travel to an ancient city in Sicily in hopes of reviving their marriages — or finishing them off for good. One couple brings along their preteen daughter to add a truly unpredictable element to the unfolding disaster. As in The Girl on the Train, an assortment of secretive, self-absorbed narrators gradually unfolds this tale of a Mediterranean vacation gone horribly awry.
Lori: In Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon, former superstar London reporter Alex Dale is on the fast track to liver failure — her inability to ban the bottle is making a shambles of her personal and professional lives. Alex stumbles into investigating the unsolved crime of a girl who, 15 years ago, was brutally assaulted and has been living in a nursing home in a coma ever since. Can Alex bring a vicious rapist to justice while battling her own addiction?
Christine: Who would you trust if your memory vanished every time you went to sleep? Your husband? Your doctor? Your journal? A fast-paced thriller, Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson will engross you to the very last word. As Christine Lucas attempts to figure out the truth about her accident, her son, her marriage, you will be overwhelmed as you feel her frustration and fear as she tries to figure out who wants to harm her. But is she correct? Be prepared to feverishly read this story, stopping only when you have read the last word!