The most deliciously dark horror novels that are more sad than scary

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm the author of over 15 novels written for kids, teens, and adults across several genres. The thing all my books have in common is that they are sad and they are dark. My most recent novel is my most distilled, compressed delivery of deliciously dark sadness yet! Oddly, I'm rarely sad in real life. My daughter suggested that I write books to get the darkness out of my head and onto the page, which I think is very insightful (she is my kid, after all). I enjoy the beauty in the breakdown, I savor the sublime catharsis of tragedy, and I want to share that perspective with everyone.


I wrote...

No Filter

By Kelley Skovron,

Book cover of No Filter

What is my book about?

Janessa "Jinx" McCormick loves photography because it’s like real life, except she can make it perfect. She never takes selfies because she doesn’t want to be in her own pictures. Her pictures are perfect. She is anything but. But one night, as she’s touching up a new photo before posting it, Jinx sees…something sitting on the floor in the background of the image. Something she’s certain was not in the frame when she took the shot.

The figure is too dark and hazy to see exactly what it is. It looks roughly human-shaped, but only roughly. And soon Jinx notices something even more unsettling. With each new shot she takes, the figure is always there. And it’s moving closer to the camera.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Doll Bones

Kelley Skovron Why did I love this book?

I have never encountered a story that depicts the dread and heartbreak of growing up more authentically than Black has done in the pages of this Newberry-awarded novel for children.

It is both as brutal and as delicate as the creepy antique doll (which may or may not be haunted) at the center of the story. Three kids head out on their own, determined to lay the spirit trapped within the doll to rest while the all-to-real fears and quiet dangers of their regular lives snap at their heels.

It is a book of loss, acceptance, and courage that will remain nestled in my heart for life. I am literally tearing up right now as I think of it.

By Holly Black, Eliza Wheeler (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Doll Bones as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

My name is Eleanor Kerchner.
You can call me the Queen.
I died in 1895.
Now it's time to play.

A chilling ghost story by the bestselling author of The Spiderwick Chronicles, Holly Black.

Recipient of a Newbery Honor Award. An ALA Notable Book. A Kirkus Reviews Best Book. A School Library Journal Best Book. A Booklist Editor's Choice Books for Youth. A Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book. A 2013 Goodreads Choice award nominee. A People Magazine 'Best New Kids Book'.


Book cover of The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Kelley Skovron Why did I love this book?

Neil Gaiman has probably had more of an impact on my brain and my writing than any other author. Selecting just one of his many incredible "dark and sad" books was a real challenge for me.

I settled on this one, in part because it is the perfect bookend to my previous recommendation, Doll Bones, in that it eloquently expresses the quiet joys, fears, and sorrows of childhood, as seen through the eyes of an adult who knows full well the meaning of loss, and the cost of things we can barely recognize, much less understand, when we are young.

Like the narrator of the book, I feel the ever-widening gulf between myself and my own memories. I also see it beginning for my offspring, who have both recently entered adulthood, and my heart breaks for all three of us.

By Neil Gaiman, Elise Hurst (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Ocean at the End of the Lane as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD 'BOOK OF THE YEAR'

AN ACCLAIMED WEST END THEATRE PRODUCTION *****

'Neil Gaiman's entire body of work is a feat of elegant sorcery. He writes with such assurance and originality that the reader has no choice but to surrender to a waking dream' ARMISTEAD MAUPIN

'Some books just swallow you up, heart and soul' JOANNE HARRIS

'Summons both the powerlessness and wonder of childhood, and the complicated landscape of memory and forgetting' GUARDIAN

---

'My favourite response to this book is when people say, 'My childhood was nothing like that - and it was as if…


Book cover of Her Body and Other Parties: Stories

Kelley Skovron Why did I love this book?

I found this story collection by Machado to be not only dark and sad, but wickedly funny. How often does our laughter turn to tears, or vice versa? These things are not mutually exclusive, and Machado lives within that uncomfortably liminal space with obvious relish.

I also appreciate it's unabashed feminism. So much of the horror genre is seen through a male lens that leaves me feeling cold and left out. In Machado's writing, I feel not only seen but celebrated, and I will happily live within her ferociously accepting stories of darkness as many times as she offers them.

By Carmen Maria Machado,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Her Body and Other Parties as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FICTION PRIZE 2017
SHORTLISTED FOR THE INTERNATIONAL DYLAN THOMAS PRIZE 2018

'Brilliantly inventive and blazingly smart' Garth Greenwell

'Impossible, imperfect, unforgettable' Roxane Gay

'A wild thing ... covered in sequins and scales, blazing with the influence of fabulists from Angela Carter to Kelly Link and Helen Oyeyemi' New York Times

In her provocative debut, Carmen Maria Machado demolishes the borders between magical realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. Startling narratives map the realities of women's lives and the violence visited on their bodies, both in myth and in practice.

A…


Book cover of The Last House on Needless Street

Kelley Skovron Why did I love this book?

I really don't know how Catriona Ward manages to balance the languid sadness and unrelenting tension so well.

Ward's profound empathy for every single character, no matter how flawed, is what twists your heart. At the same time, you feel as though you're on a roller coaster barreling at breakneck speed through pitch-black tunnels.

I wasn't always sure I understood what was going on from moment to moment, and that seems very much by design because, wow, what a twist! And the deeply felt depiction of the characters never made me feel like I was truly lost. I will indulge a great deal of mystery as long as it is presented by such a steady and skillful hand.

By Catriona Ward,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Last House on Needless Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The buzz...is real. I've read it and was blown away. It's a true nerve-shredder that keeps its mind-blowing secrets to the very end." ―Stephen King

Winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Horror Novel!
A World Fantasy Award Finalist!
An Indie Next Pick! A LibraryReads Top 10 Pick!
A Library Journal Editors' Pick! STARRED reviews from Library Journal and Publishers Weekly!
Named one of the "50 Best Horror Books of All Time" by Esquire!

"Brilliant....[a] deeply frightening deconstruction of the illusion of the self." ―The New York Times

Catriona Ward's The Last House on Needless Street is a shocking…


Book cover of Die Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker

Kelley Skovron Why did I love this book?

I wanted to put a graphic novel on this list because gosh do I love 'em! In fact, it was tough to narrow it down to just one. And in the interest of full disclosure, I should probably say that Stephanie Hans also did an incredible cover for one of my GI Joe novels. I hasten to add, however, that this happened after I had already fallen head over heels for this series.

Gillen described this series as "Goth Jumanji," and I get why he chose such a pithy, clever pitch. It gives you a really hooky snapshot of the vibe. But it really doesn't do justice to the sublime, brutal sadness of this work. It is stunningly ambitious yet deeply human. The art is utterly gorgeous, even when it is also distressingly grotesque.

On a more personal note, I found the depiction of Ash, the primary protagonist who is wrestling with questions of gender identity throughout the series, to be exquisitely rendered in all its complexity and vulnerability.

By Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Die Volume 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 16, and 17.


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The Last Bird of Paradise

By Clifford Garstang,

Book cover of The Last Bird of Paradise

Clifford Garstang Author Of Oliver's Travels

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Fiction writer Globalist Lawyer Philosopher Seeker

Clifford's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Two women, a century apart, seek to rebuild their lives after leaving their homelands. Arriving in tropical Singapore, they find romance, but also find they haven’t left behind the dangers that caused them to flee.

Haunted by the specter of terrorism after 9/11, Aislinn Givens leaves her New York career and joins her husband in Southeast Asia when he takes a job there. She acquires several paintings by a colonial-era British artist that she believes are a warning.

The artist, Elizabeth Pennington, tells her own tumultuous story through diary entries that end when World War I reaches the colony with catastrophic results. In the present, Aislinn and her husband learn that terrorism takes many shapes when they are ensnared by local political upheaval and corruption.

The Last Bird of Paradise

By Clifford Garstang,

What is this book about?

"Aislinn Givens leaves a settled life in Manhattan for an unsettled life in Singapore. That painting radiates mystery and longing. So does Clifford Garstang's vivid and simmering novel, The Last Bird of Paradise." –John Dalton, author of Heaven Lake and The Inverted Forest

Two women, nearly a century apart, seek to rebuild their lives when they reluctantly leave their homelands. Arriving in Singapore, they find romance in a tropical paradise, but also find they haven't left behind the dangers that caused them to flee.

In the aftermath of 9/11 and haunted by the specter of terrorism, Aislinn Givens leaves her…


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