The Fright Stuff

Horrific Biographies and More

In the long-ago time before social media, my college roommate wrote all her favorite lyrics and quotes on index cards and taped them to her side of the dorm. When her sister visited, she said, “No one is EVER going to read all of that. Unless you die.” My roommate laughed, and I said back, “Or maybe if you killed someone?”

I realized much later, when I was studying nonfiction in my MFA program that it’s really hard to make someone GAF about your true story. Much nonfiction leaves readers wondering, so… what? But there’s something about crime and creeps that makes us need to know more. I personally need to know all that shit so I can avoid it, but I also, like, can’t NOT know. It’s not so much the voyeuristic secondhand adrenaline as the WAIT WHAT WHO NOW impulse that has me read biographies, especially those with the element of horror. By the way, you’re in The Fright Stuff, Book Riot’s weekly newsletter about the latest and greatest in horror. I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, and I’ll be your Virgil through this circle of hell, Horrific Biographies.

Earworm: “Bad Girls” by M.I.A.… live fast, die young, bad girls do it well.

Fresh Hells (FKA New Releases):

born to be posthumousBorn to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery

This biography of the eccentric author and illustrator is not straight-up horror: it more so shows how the author conceptualized the horrors from his pseudo-children’s books like The Gashleycrumb Tinies, The Doubtful Guest, and The Hapless Child. If you love learning about the childhood and inspirations of your horror icons, you’ll really like this book.

little by edward careyLittle: A Novel by Edward Carey

Edward Carey calls this book a “fictionalized biography,” but it reads like a novel, and I mean that in a good way. So often, biographies lose the human condition for the sake of facts, but that’s not the case at all with this book. It’s based on Marie Tussand, of the Wax Museums. You, like me, probably associate the wax museum with kitschy tourist traps, but it started out as the exact opposite: the wax museums were a way that art preserved the history of the French Revolution, and Marie, or “Little,” as they call her in the book, because of her jarring appearance, is the one who kept it going. I know you’re thinking, but where is the horror? UM, DID YOU KNOW that she cast the heads of the aristocrats beheaded by the guillotine? And that’s not even the most harrowing of it….

Magnetized: Conversations with a Serial Killer by Carlos Busqued, translated by Samuel Rutter

Though this book is not exactly a biography, it definitely paints a vivid picture of the real-life serial killer in Buenos Aires, Ricardo Melogno. The author visited Melogno in prison and interviewed him, and in this mixed-media book which includes everything from newspaper clippings to Santeria indoctrination, you’ll start to fear the “something dense” that Melogno says inhabits him. Seriously, from the jump, the actual epigraph about magnets and their currents, I was like… yo, I don’t know if I’m gonna make it through this one–y’all know that demons are in my trifecta of shit I can’t handle! (I should mention that this one is only available for pre-order in English, but if you are a Spanish speaker, GET IT NOW.)

Crypt-Keepers (FKA horrors from the backlist): 

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston

Though this biography does not have the goal of scaring its readership, everyone with a conscience will be straight shook. Zora Neale Hurston (whom you may know from Their Eyes Were Watching God or Tell My Horse) authored this book decades ago, but the tale of the last “Black Cargo” was only published in 2018. It’s based on the interviews she conducted in 1928 with Cudjoe Lewis, the last presumed living survivor of the Middle Passage.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

This novel chronicles the life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, fictional personage who, though he has no body odor of his own, can smell literally everything. He fixates on an odor that he follows through the smelliest place on earth, the fish market of Paris, where he finds a beautiful woman. Grenouille spends the rest of his life trying to manufacture scents–even objects that have no smell, like glass–in order to recreate the scent of that woman. It’s a story of true obsession, art, and overall horror.

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson

This book is one of Shirley Jackson’s memoirs, but I think it counts here. You probably know her work from We Have Always Lived in the Castle or The Haunting of Hill Houseor even “The Lottery,” and she’s certainly well known for her slow-burn terror. This book, though, illustrates motherhood as though it is a horror movie.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

When I was studying creative nonfiction, they called this book “science nonfiction,” which is just a way of rebranding… call it what you will, this book is genius. It documents Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who noticed that something was wrong and went to the doctor, where she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and a sample of her tumor was taken without her consent. If you have not yet read this book, then you are doing yourself a disservice.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Caitlin Doughty writes of her own life in this book, from her obsession with death when she saw a child fall through an atrium in a mall as a child, herself, through her training in mortuary science. This book takes it upon itself to destigmatize death through the story of her life, and while it is definitely fascinating, it is also wildly uncanny for anyone unaccustomed to the subject matter.

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera

Oh, my love, Frida. I’ve been obsessed with her and her surrealist art since I was in high school, fell in love with the biopic starring Salma Hayek in college, and have just been poring through this biography since then. The Julie Taymor film was based loosely on this biography, but in case you are unfamiliar with her work, Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter in the 1930s and 1940s, and she painted works inspired by her life. From the trolley accident that rendered her infertile through her miscarriages, marriages, and love affairs, this book shows the horrors that the artist endured.


Preliminary nominees for the Bram Stoker Awards are listed here!

Mardi Gras designer finally credited.

Did you hear that Netflix is dropping a new show called Murder House Flip… which is exactly what it sounds like?

Memorial installed to commemorate victims of the European witch hunt.

This tweet from author and translator of Aladdin, Yasmine Seale shows “the fish glue, leather and other substances that made up Arabic and Ottoman manuscripts appealed to insect appetites.”

Want to know why the devil came to Salmon Street? Check this shit.

Visit Qumran National Park in Israel to see where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered!

Want to hear about the whistleblower of one of the most horrific experiments of all time, the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment? Read this article, which goes in depth about why medical whisteblowers are so rare.

In case you missed the drama about American Dirthere’s Book Riot’s TLDR version.

That’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour through the hell of horrific biographies. As always, please follow me or send your recommendations on Twitter or Instagram.

Your Virgil,


Mary Kay
TW: @mkmcbrayer
IG: @marykaymcbrayer

The Fright Stuff

Remakes and Resurrections

This one time I wore a blue cape to teach my English composition class–you read that right–and as my students all fell silent to add the “so what” to their thesis statements as instructed, I heard one woman whisper, “You look like a Black Snow White.” Another whispered back, “No! She looks like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” In the sitcom version of this story, I leap onto the podium and announce “I AM DOING EVERYTHING RIGHT.” In real life, however, because I cared a lot about that job, I just grinned wildly because even though there are MANY new stories being greenlit, this generation is one of remakes… and despite my ambivalence, a horror story retold or re-imagined, especially for inclusion, is the bomb.

(I should mention that I am neither Black, nor white, nor Iranian, as my students’ comparisons implied, but as an Arab person in the south, sometimes these ethnically ambiguous representations are as close as we get. Case in point: my unbridled childlike enthusiasm of Tom Cruise’s remake of The Mummy featuring A GIRL MONSTER WHO ONLY WANTED POWER, and then, of course, immediate disappointment that the narrative was literally and inexplicably hijacked by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde… this is why we can’t have nice things: Tom Cruise.)

So with no further preamble, this is The Fright Stuff, Book Riot’s weekly newsletter about the latest and greatest in horror. I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, and I’ll be your Virgil through this circle of hell, the remake.

Still from Ana Lily Amirpour's 2014 vampire spaghetti western, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.

The Thing about Hell is It’s Eternal (FKA, I meshed “new releases” with “backlist classics” because that is the nature of the remake)

The Turning by Henry James

This collection was re-released in tandem with the upcoming fill The Turning, based loosely on “The Turn of the Screw” and ghost stories by Henry James. This Christmas ghost story (never too late, always the season, et cetera) is one narrative that founded the motif of, Is it a ghost, or is it a hallucination? If not being able to trust your own mind wasn’t scary enough, it also has evil kids involved, which, as you might remember, is the worst kind of scary for me personally.

the remaking clay mcleod chapmanThe Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman

If you haven’t already picked up this novel, I need you to go ahead and do it. Though this book is not a remake itself, it does focus on remakings as a trope of our generation, and how the subjects of those horror stories do. not. like. that. It makes total sense that a witch and her daughter would haunt the shit out of anyone who misrepresented their story, right? I mean, I would do that, given the chance.

Medusa’s Daughters by Theodora Goss

If you like the Gothic, and I assume you do, because here you find yourself, you’re gonna love these showcase pieces from various female authors during the fin de siècle. Theodora Goss, Victorianist and author of horror and speculative fiction books, edits these long-lost and long-loved stories and poems. You’re gonna love it!


Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, Edited by Carmen Maria Machado

If you’re making a list about remade horror, you can’t NOT include Carmen Maria Machado’s edit of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic novella–not only is it easier to read than the original translation, but its footnotes and introduction frame it in a way that you’ve never seen before.


The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

I guess technically most people wouldn’t classify The Odyssey as horror, but hot damn does it have a ton of monsters and murder and war to not be scary af. Not to mention the 12 maids of Penelope that Odysseus and Telemachus hang to death for consorting and conspiring with the suitors… so, maybe Odysseus wouldn’t have considered the mass murder of the suitors horror, but Penelope does, and this re-envisioning of the Classic myth, told in both verse and prose, depicts the perspective of the wise yet vulnerable Penelope. Just wait until she runs up on her maids in the Underworld. Or when she runs into Helen.

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

Though the title suggests this novel–Oyeyemi’s first, in fact–would reimagine the story of the boy flying too close to the sun, this book deals more with the hyphenated identity (Nigerian-English) of a little girl, Jess. When she falls into uncontrollable screaming fits, her mother takes her to Nigeria for a visit. The book more-so remakes the idea of the doppelgänger or double, because when Jess meets her new friend Tillytilly, playdates get real scary.


A monument honoring reporter Nellie Bly is coming to New York.

Forget a solid gold toilet–in the 18th century, toilets and entire bathrooms were designed to look like books.

And don’t forget about this forgotten Subway entrance, the historical marker of the Shakespeare Riots, which were a real thing.

In case you want to know about cursed films, a documentary series on many of them (directed by Jay Cheel) will debut at SXSW! And if you’re not going to that festival, it will be on Shudder soon afterward!

Stephen King has clarified his Tweet about diversity and quality, in case you haven’t heard.

Want to know the real killer who inspired the play, Arsenic and Old Lace? Here you go.

The Edgar Allan Poe House is Maryland’s first literary landmark.

The Romantic poets made punny nicknames for each other… and Lord Byron used to call William Wordsworth “Turdsworth.”

Are you, too, tired of coffeehouses that don’t look like Victorian Bordellos? Then you should check out the Raven Cafe in Port Huron, Michigan.

And see about this project, Women in Translation, which is translating horror literature!

If I missed important things, don’t forget to get at me (or follow me) on Twitter @mkmcbrayer or Instagram @marykaymcbrayer. And if you need more literary reads, check out Book Riot’s new podcast that I co-host with LH Johnson, Novel Gazing. Until next week, y’all be careful about whose stories you tell, and how you tell them.

Your Virgil,


Mary Kay

The Fright Stuff

The End of the World

A tiny part of me always wonders if the world is going to end at the end of the new year. I’ll never forget celebrating New Year’s Eve 2000 as a middleschooler with my grandmother and first cousins, and as my dad hugged me bye, he saw my anxiety and said, “You know the world’s not going to end, right? At least, not because of Y2K.”

I’d be lying if I gave that one incident credit for my persistent anxiety about facing my own mortality at any random moment without the ceremony of a countdown and champagne toast, but, like, that didn’t help. So, in this edition of Book Riot’s horror newsletter, The Fright Stuff, we’re going to celebrate the New Year with books that feature the apocalypse and post-apocalyptic worlds. I’ve tried to steer away from the obvious, like “Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and I hope to introduce you to some new books and stories you’ll give a shot. I mean, this is the time of year for doing new things… we aren’t promised tomorrow, after all. I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, and I’ll be your Virgil through this circle of hell. Here it comes.

From Lars Von Trier’s 2011 film, Melancholia.

Ear worm: “Idioteque” by Radiohead–Who’s in a bunker? Who’s in a bunker? Women and children first.

Fresh Hells: (FKA new releases)

“Fallow” by Sofia Samatar in Tender 

This short story–though not very short–is one of the best, most fascinating things I read in 2019. It’s a part of the collection, Tender, which retells fairy tales and reimagines common tropes in our popular culture. This story focuses on the group of fundamentalist Christians who leaves Earth at its destruction and starts a colony, which it names “Fallow.” I don’t want to tell too much about this one, but trust that it is amazing, and you should buy this whole collection as soon as you get your 2020 money right.

american warAmerican War by Omar El Akkad

This novel is also one of my favorite recent reads–I got it on audiobook, and because my mind wanders sometimes, when I tell you the voice-acting is IMPECCABLE, Oh my God, believe me. I never got confused, even in long sections of stacked dialogue. This book takes place after America’s second Civil War, and it’s set in the American South. One thing I loved about this book is how political it is without being divisive about contemporary issues, AND that its star and protagonist is a young multiethnic girl who is not particularly beautiful. She’s just straight-up awesome. You’re gonna love this book.

Cryptkeepers: (FKA backlisted favorites)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

No list about the end of the world would be complete without this Pulitzer-prize winning bomb by one of my favorite authors, Cormac McCarthy. When I taught gifted middle schoolers this book–yes, that is a real thing that I had the delight of doing–in a class about the end of the world, not only did they ask to keep reading, but they were fascinated by how much information the narration relays in such minimalist style. The thing I think it captures best, though, is how humanity falters for the sake of our hierarchy of needs, even when the most important thing to its protagonist is another human–honestly, the reason the end of the world is scary is not particularly the world itself, but the end of our human civilization and our relationships. That’s what this book focuses on: not the end of the world itself, but its repercussions.

parable of the sowerParable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

This dystopia is set in 2024 in Los Angeles, when global warming has brought drought, rising sea level, and a hard divison between the middle class and those who are homeless. It’s told through the journal entries of a fifteen-year-old girl who lives in one of the gated communities. This one, like pretty much all of Octavia Butler’s writings, is a classic.



In the 1890s, these female students of anatomy embroidered their spooky yearbook.

One apocalyptic fresco at the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Montenegro has caused particular controversy.

Here’s a first look at Lovecraft Country, HBO’s supernatural horror series by Jordan Peele.

FANGORIA has a new online horror column called “Joe Bob Goes to the Drive In”–and if you already subscribe, it’s free to read online!

Check out this article about Black horror, and Candyman in particular, on Graveyardshift Sisters.

The Modern Language Association wrote this piece about “scare quotes.” (See what I did there? (It’s a joke all the way down!))

That’s it from me, y’all. The world is laying low right now in the wake of the doom that didn’t happen. If you like what you read here, though, please do give me a follow on Twitter as @mkmcbrayer or Instagram as @marykaymcbrayer and absolutely please let me know of any horror news I missed! Talk to you next week, if next week happens.

Your Virgil,


Mary Kay McBrayer
Co-host of the literary fiction podcast, Novel Gazing

The Fright Stuff

Fairy Tale Horror

Much as I want to identify with the princess or maiden, the time has come to accept that I more so fit the Crone archetype of the fairy tale. It’s mostly because every time I see a little kid, I want to steal it and squeeze it… or because I get mad when someone is prettier than I am. And don’t get me started about owning a gingerbread house to fatten up kids running away from evil stepmothers. That’s just how crones be.

The crone is just ONE of many characters present throughout fairy tales, though… and since we’re in such a mood of retellings right now, this week, we’re going to talk about fairy tale horror! You’re in The Fright Stuff, by the way, Book Riot’s weekly newsletter featuring the latest and greatest in horror, and I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, your Virgil in this ring of hell. Follow my breadcrumb trail, and let’s talk scary fairy tales!

Earworm: “Once Upon a Dream” (originally from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty) covered by Lana Del Rey. I really just feel like this is the way the song was suppose to sound.

Fresh Hells (FKA New Releases):

Disfigured by Amanda Leduc

If you love fairy tales, but you were the type of little girl (like me) who was pissed when the beast turned into a prince at the end, this book is for you. Amanda Leduc talks about the ways in which disability is represented in fairy tales, and how usually the disabled characters are the villains. I loved this book, and I can’t recommend it enough.


Tender by Sofia Samatar

This entire collection of short stories retells fairy tales, urban legends, and folklore from new perspectives. I’ve mentioned “Fallow” in previous newsletters, but other stories of hers incorporate the ideas of Selkies, folklore from the Far- and Middle East that escapes the western canon, and even what it’s like to live in the African land of witches. Don’t miss this book.

Timothy Schaffert’s column in Enchanted Living, “The Lesser Periwinkle:The Love Potions of Lady Wilde, Mrs. Whiskeyman, and Other Local Witches”

I am unabashedly obsessed with this author’s writing, but hearing the love potion process from the collective perspective of some Weird Sisters is a huge draw for any horror fan. Especially with lines like, “the more a cure hinted at danger and perversity, the more authentic it seemed. Love is mercurial enough to be best situated in the witch’s dominion.” YIKES. But also, YES.

Cryptkeepers (FKA horrors from the backlist): 

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

If you’re not already familiar with Helen Oyeyemi’s style of writing, you are definitely in for a horrific and delightful treat. This novel retells the story of Snow White–loosely, though. Very loosely. It’s whimsical and gritty in the exactly right formula for a lover of dark fairy tales.


The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

Despite its subtitle, the short stories collected in this book are anything but “everyday.” From a re-imagining of the Frog Princess to my personal favorite, “The Rabbit,” these stories proudly make children’s stories horrific. (I really cannot overemphasize how terrifying “The Rabbit” makes its predecessor, The Velveteen RabbitThat story alone is worth the reading of the whole book. Y’all. I am serious.”

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

I taught this collection of Soviet-Era banned short stories to my World Literature class, and at large they were both stunned and enthralled. Like many folk- and fairy-tales, they seem like allegories, and one section of the collection is labeled as such… but like horror stories, the analogies do not work on a one-to-one ratio. This collection is a fascinating mixture of magical realism and horror.

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me edited by Kate Bernheimer

This anthology of fairy tale retellings includes everything from “A Day in the Life of Half of Rumplestilskin,” which takes place after he gets so mad at the queen for guessing his name that he tears himself in half, to a retelling of the lesser known “Donkeyskin,” called “The Color Master” by Aimee Bender, in which our protagonist has to make a dress the color of the moon. Each story is magical and disturbing, and if you like this anthology, next you should look at the literary journal that Kate Bernheimer edits, The Fairy Tale Review!


Gretel & Hansel drops at the end of this month! I’m super excited to watch those kids try not to get eaten. What a fun and horrific take on this witchy tale… before this film adaptation, my favorite interpretation of the story focuses on the food, in Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread

If you’re wondering why the protagonists of horror films seldom have disabilities, you’re not alone. Katelyn Nelson writes about ableist horror in the movies Hush and The Furiesand you can find her tweeting about more dope analysis here.

What exactly qualifies as “treasure?” And what does that term imply, according to this coroner? 

Check out this Lithuanian water ghost statue entitled ‘Juodasis Vaiduoklis’ (‘The Black Ghost’) based on local lore.

The Indie Next List for January is now available!

Read about 7 of Scotland’s standing stones that may or may not transport you back in time. (My mom is obsessed with the Outlander series, and I sent this post to her immediately.)

And if you want more fairy tales, check out this post that I wrote for Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge, which lists ten fairy tale retellings by authors of color!

As always, I’m definitely in the market for horror recommendations, so if you know of some writings that are based on fairy tales, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me on Twitter at @mkmcbrayer or Instagram at @marykaymcbrayer.

I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, and until next week, y’all remember: don’t go into the woods, and don’t take apples from crones.

Your Virgil,


Mary Kay

The Fright Stuff

Christmas Ghost Stories

I don’t know if y’all know this or not, but it used to be a tradition in England to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve. Now, I love America and most of what we stand for, but of all the shitty traditions that we continue to perpetuate… ghost stories on Christmas!? That’s the one that should stick around (pun intended). I guess we can just blame its absence on the Puritans? 

I digress. The only Christmas ghost stories that I could think of were the obvious ones, like A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (which, also, are y’all as excited as I am for that new FX/BBC One miniseries adaptation? LET’S DO IT, JACOB MARLEY. RATTLE THOSE CHAINS, SON!) and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. You may notice that both of these are written by old, dead, white guys. Most of the Christmas ghost stories are written by old, dead, white guys, since the tradition is old, dead, and white.

By the way, I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, your Virgil on this journey, and this is The Fright Stuff, Book Riot’s weekly newsletter about the latest and greatest in horror. This week’s theme is the Christmas Ghost Story!

Earworm: “Arabesque Cookie (Arabian Dance)” by Duke Ellington–this whole album is my favorite spooky, jazzy Christmas album. Like, at any moment, I expect a goblin in a sequin gown to exhale smoke in my face and start trimming the tree.

Fresh Hells: (AKA New releases)

Darkly: Black History and America’s Gothic Soul by Leila Taylor

In this cultural study and history, Leila Taylor, the Creative Director at Brooklyn Public Library details how the Gothic culture, which is largely associated with England (as you’ll see in this list), permeates Black American culture. It’s such an important book, especially because the Christmas ghost story should be for EVERYONE, and historically, not very many of those stories have been published by authors of color. (That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, though, as you’ll see in this gem!)

Hark! The Herald Angels Scream edited by Christopher Golden

This collection of horror stories with a Christmas theme features short works by many contemporary authors. They elaborate on tropes like the untying of Jacob Marley’s head bandage and the concept of Yankee Swap.



Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror & Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson

Though this book is more so an anthology of women writers in horror, it’s this book from which I first learned of the Christmas ghost story tradition. (Sometimes it takes someone pointing out a trope for us to notice it, even though it’s been there all along.) They list MANY women authors in this text, and several of them are/were writers of the Christmas ghost story.

Connie Willis’s “Adaptation” from Miracle and Other Christmas Stories

Though these stories are not exactly straight-up horror, they blend science fiction with fantasy in a delightful reading experience. Who doesn’t love it when two of the ghosts from A Christmas Carol meet? And who doesn’t want to know what happens when they find EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT under the Christmas tree? They’re ominous, and they’re delightful.

The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

This book is a fun YA retelling of A Christmas Carol, but instead of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, the protagonist is a spoiled teenage girl. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future try to warn her of what will happen, but she doesn’t listen. And then she dies.



“Christmas in the Beach House” by Eliza Lynn Linton (anthologized in The Valancourt Book of Christmas Ghost Stories)

This is one of the authors whom I learned of through Monster, She Wrote, and am so grateful to have done so! This story in particular has a supernatural bent, and is set on the Cornish coast, but the entire collection (three volumes, now!) anthologizes rare Victorian Christmas ghost stories that were collected from periodicals published at the time.

Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell

Unlike her predecessor and influencer, Ann Radcliffe, who explained away supernatural hauntings in the natural–for example, it’s not a ghost, just a stalker!–Gaskell’s stories feature bona fide ghosts. This collection groups many of them together so that you can choose your favorite to read around the fireplace as you wait for Santa to slip down the chimney and try to avoid those embers.


I won’t lie: I don’t feel great about this list being predominately white folks and men, so basically ALL of the news is going to counterweight that!

Razzouk Ink in Jerusalem has been tattooing religious pilgrims for 700 years. Another amazing tradition!

It’s not just Christians around Christmas who love ghost stories. Everyone loves ghost stories. Here are some traditional ghost stories from Malaysia!

Check out this interview with M. Lamar and Leila Taylor about the long history of Afrogoth. It’s SO cool!

And because I can’t resist… have y’all seen the trailer for Rose Glass’ writer-directorial debut, Saint Maud from A24? It is SO SCARY.

That’s it, everyone. It’s time to go overeat with family and celebrate the birth of the Christ child with some spooky stories! I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, and if you want to LiveTweet about that A Christmas Carol miniseries with me, follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

Your Virgil,

Mary Kay

The Fright Stuff

Braving (or Fearing) the Elements

Like Danny Castellano said on The Mindy Project, “I fear the ocean out of respect.” But also, I respect the ocean out of fear. Do you know what is under all that water?! NO. YOU DON’T. NO ONE DOES. That’s the whole reason behind that one side of Romanticism, right? (I’m talking Poe, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats… all those.) Nature is incredible! And also, terrifying!

Because it is now The Bleak Midwinter, this week’s newsletter is themed around The Elements. Though I’m focusing largely on winter, I’m including other elements and extreme weather, too… I’ll do my best to forego the obvious like Moby Dick and The Shining because, after all, this is a NEWsletter, and even though The Cold is my ultimate nemesis. (How can anyone conquer the world when she can’t feel her extremities?)

By the way, you’re in The Fright Stuff, Book Riot’s weekly newsletter about the latest and greatest in horror. I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, and I’ll be your Virgil through this circle of hell, The Elements.

Ear Worm: “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” by Missy Elliott… I can’t stand the rain.

Fresh Hells (FKA “new releases…”)

the deep alma katsuThe Deep by Alma Katsu

Part history and part fiction, this book tells of the Titanic’s supernatural goings-on, and how a man who could not have survived its sinking appears to a nurse who did survive. What happens on the Britannica, the Titanic’s sister ship, which has been refitted as a hospital ship because of the world’s war, is horrific and foreboding.


Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

When snowfall cuts off the northern community of Anishinaabe and food supply dwindles, a survivor from the crumbling southern communities arrives and escalates the tension of surviving amid sickness and chaos.



Wake, Siren: Ovid, Resung by Nina McLaughlin

This novel retells the stories of women in Ovid’s myths from their own voices–stories of seductresses from the deep and women cursed into monsters because of the jealousy of other women. In this book, we hear what it’s like to flee the odysseys of rapists and oppressors through those same famous storms.

Crypt Keepers (FKA horrors from the backlist)

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

In this YA crossover novel, global warming has all but eradicated humanity, and North America’s indigenous peoples are being literally hunted. Their marrow contains something the rest of the world has lost: they still have the ability to dream. It’s a story of survivalism among cascading failures.



The Revenant by Michael Punke

You might be familiar with the AMAZING film adaptation that is “based in part” on this novel AND a true story. You know it’s well-done when it makes you cold just looking at it, right? But anyway, this novel, subtitled “A Novel of Revenge,” focuses on Hugh Glass, a fur trapper left for dead by his crew after he’s injured in a bear fight. That’s right: a bear fight. He literally crawls to avenge his death. It’s DOPE. And according to Jim Carrey’s Grinch, when Cindy Lou Who asks him, “What’s the true meaning of Christmas?” it’s “VENGEANCE.” Who am I to disagree?

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Faulkner is the king of the southern gothic, which makes him kind of a jerk, but this book, y’all, it’s so fantastic. It’s one of my first loves. The matriarch of a family dies in the heat of the summer while her son builds her coffin. Her husband insists on burying her with her people in Jefferson, and that means the whole family must travel with the corpse through the heat and the washed out bridge. It’s disgusting. You’re gonna love it.


This maritime museum off the coast of North Carolina showcases sperm whale skeletons… and calls itself Bonehenge. I didn’t include Moby Dick in the list, but if you’re into that kind of thing, Bonehenge is definitely your party.

Real-life places living on the edge. As in, impossible-seeming locations for buildings.

Did you know that some ships keep sailing even after they sink? I DIDN’T.

Want to learn about Israel’s Stalagmites, and what they say about climate change? (Plus, these pictures are amaaazing.)

“They” is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year. Party.

But, look at this weird and problematic explanation/misunderstanding of the source material regarding Dracula‘s new adaptation.

Goodreads Choice Awards Winners have been announced. See how your favorites fared!

Still shopping for the horror fans on you Christmas list? Check out this roundup. Or this one, written by your very own Virgil herself.

All right, they’re giving me the light. Y’all stay warm out there… the Bleak Midwinter is upon us. I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, and you can follow me and my horrific bullshit on Twitter and Instagram if you need more of that… and if you know of titles I’ve missed, I’d love to hear them! Until next week…

Your Virgil,

Mary Kay

The Fright Stuff

It’s Robbin’ Season, Y’all

I don’t know about where y’all are at in the world, but in Atlanta, December marks the beginning of Robbin’ Season. It’s the time of year when all the packages on your front porch go missing, package stores get knocked over, and people raise hell in big box chains on Black Friday. Though the phrase has been around for a long time, the FX TV show Atlanta coined it with its second season, and in particular the truest Southern Gothic horror episode, “Teddy Perkins.”

In honor of Robbin’ Season, this week’s circle of hell centers on noir and crime in horror–by the way, you’re in The Fright Stuff, Book Riot’s weekly newsletter about the latest and greatest in horror. I’m doing my best to skirt around the obvious choices like Silence of the Lambs and The Amityville Horror because if you don’t know about those… well, what have you been doing? Anyway I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, and I’ll be your Virgil. Y’all gone need a guide for this one. It’s Robbin’ Season.

Earworm: “The Werewolf” by Paul Simon… “Milwaukee man led a fairly decent life, / Made a fairly decent living, had a fairly decent wife. / She killed him ah, sushi knife / Now they’re shopping for a fairly decent afterlife.”

still of Teddy Perkins' brother holding sign that says "Teddy kill us both gun in attic," from the episode entitled "Teddy Perkins" from Atlanta's second season, ROBBIN' SEASON.

Fresh Hells: (FKA “new releases”)

cutting edge joyce carol oates book coverCutting Edge edited by Joyce Carol Oates

Ooh, I have been WAITING to tell y’all about this collection! You know your girl loves some noir and femme fatales, for SURE, but this collection is ALL written by women, and they are a far cry from your typically smart-mouthed well-heeled dame. In this post for Book Riot I piece it apart more, but you should know that it contains stories by Livia Llewellyn and Edwidge Danticat that will leave you both horrified and empowered… what!? He shouldn’ta been talking shit!

the quelling barbara barrow book cover the fright stuff newsletterThe Quelling by Barbara Barrow

I’ve always felt like the line between noir and horror is blurred (like the line between sci-fi and horror), but this novel is firmly situated in BOTH. Like, it LIVES in the Venn diagram’s overlap, y’all. It follows two young girls from the violent crime they commit as children into the residential mental health facility where they undergo a bizarre treatment called “the quelling,” and into their adulthood as beautiful, still violent young women. It’s amazing. You’re going to love it.

wounds by nathan ballingrud book coverWounds by Nathan Ballingrud

You might know this one from its adaptation by the same name, but this collection of six short stories/novella will have you dreading bar fights not just in themselves (because OMG what an awkward exit, am I right?), but their supernatural repercussions, as well. That’s just ONE example of the crime and horror overlap in this collections. And if you like this book, try his North American Lake Monsterstoo… for a more monstrous “reinvigoration” of the horror tradition!

Crypt Keepers: (FKA great reads from the back list)

Leaving Atlanta cover imageLeaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

So… if y’all have watched Mindhunter (I have. All of it. Twice. And a half.), the Atlanta Monster has been unearthed in your awareness of true crime. This book, though, depicts the tragedies of those serial child killings in a less true crime way. In fact, it depicts the nebulous fear that Black children in Atlanta had at the time, from three perspectives. I mentioned before that I live in Atlanta, on the west side, where a lot of these abductions actually happened, and it was so scary to read off street names that I could literally walk to as the place where a child was last seen. I know I’m scared when involuntary tears spring into my eyes. It’s actually a really frustrating misrepresentation of what I’m feeling… same shit happens when I get really mad. Like, whose call was that when evolving human emotional responses.

cabin at the end of the world paul tremblay book coverCabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Ah, your good-ol’-fashioned B & E! Plus home invasion. Plus some truly Greek decision-making skills. I’m getting ahead of myself: a huge stranger convinces a little girl to let him and a group of others into her family’s vacation home because “your dads won’t want to let us in… but they have to. We need your help to save the world.” From there, tension builds through this tale of “paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival.”

big machine victor lavalle book coverBig Machine by Victor Lavalle

Hot damn. The publisher blurb on this novel is spot-on for the theme of this newsletter, but to elucidate: a survivor of a suicide cult who is also addicted to heroin receives a call to adventure. A band of petty criminals and former addicts need him as a paranormal investigator. I love it when these genres overlay so beautifully–y’all got to check this one out right away!


Want to know the linguistics of how New Jersey Italian gangsters turned “capicola” into “gabagool?” Check out this awesome article.

Here’s a true tale of crime and horror: this man killed his wife and wrote a novel about it, and no one knew.

Cover of Paul Tremblay’s new book, Survivor Song just revealed.

What makes the set of The Good Place look like… the Bad Place? Or not? Check out this interview with the set designer while you eat your Fro-Yo.

In other cinematic/adaptation news, Train to Busan sequel release date has been announced. Go ahead on and pass the tissues, am I right? Aside from Bride of Frankenstein, this is the horror movie that had me crying like a cartoon where the tears just bust straight out from your eyes.

And if you’re still looking for more horror-themed holiday gifts, check out Quirk’s mystery Horror for the Holidays gift box. And a few other titles that we love have gift packages available from them now, too!

National Geographic answers the question Who is Krampus?

These cuneiform artifacts (in case you don’t remember, cuneiform is the first written language) are making their way home to Iraq after a century in the U.S. For reference… Hammurabi’s Code is written in cuneiform. This is a big-ass deal, since lots of historical museums operate under the “finders-keepers-losers-weepers” unwritten rule. I mean, it is, after all, Robbin’ Season.

I hope you enjoyed your travels through this circle of hell. I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, and I’ve been your Virgil. For more tours through more hell, come follow me on Instagram and Twitter. Till next week, y’all stay safe out there. It’s Robbin’ Season.

Your Virgil,


Mary Kay

The Fright Stuff

Kidnap the Sandy Claws! Gifts for Horror Readers

‘Tis the season for giving, regardless of what faith you celebrate–okay maybe not REGARDLESS, but whether you’re going to Midnight Mass lighting the Menorah… it’s ALWAYS Halloween time.

The gifts on this list all have to do with horror and literature, and they’ve been curated by your Virgil, me, Mary Kay McBrayer. Normally, The Fright Stuff is Book Riot’s newsletter on the latest and greatest in bookish horror, but this is a special holiday issue: below you’ll find a list of treats fit for the Naughty horror lover’s never-ending bag of crap.

Behold, the gifts!

A Christmas Carol Tea Towel Set–Even on Christmas, the Ghost of Jacob Marley is terrifying. Not to mention all of your past mistakes, what you’re missing out on, and the future your actions might lead to… these towels will remind you to choose wisely against Scrooge-ing every time you wash and dry your Jaggery hands.

Nightmare before Christmas Wreath–I couldn’t resist including at least ONE Nightmare Before Christmas allusion–and what better than this scary Christmas wreath? You can put it up at Halloween and leave it up till the New Year! But you know it’s bad luck to leave up decorations into January… who am I kidding? I’ll absolutely be the one on the block who leaves her Halloween/Christmas decorations up year-round.

Jacob Marley & Ebenezer Scrooge Marionettes – Okay, so this would be ACTUALLY horrifying to open as a gift, but the craftsmanship is truly impeccable.

Krampus Christmas Cards – This vintage Victorian Christmas card features Santa’s foil, Krampus. And check out that scheming little girl in the bottom right corner! You’ll definitely get your Holiday Cards’ List’s attention with this note!

The Shining Holiday Card – Nothing like an allusion to Stephen King’s The Shining to make everyone want to stay in the room and curl up with a good book….

Nosferatu Head Plant Holder – If you’re gonna grow succulents, you got to do it in the skull of Nosferatu–it just seems like they all NEED MORE SUNLIGHT (see what I did there?)!

page anchors the fright stuff

Page Anchor – I lovvvve this concept–have you ever been reading a book but ALSO your nails are wet? Or you you need to have your hands free for some other, less important task? This page anchor does essentially the same thing as a cookbook holder, but it’s less unwieldy, and it comes in BLACK. Like to match my cold, dead heart which is black and dead!

Also, Paper Source has a TON of novelty gifts, like….

Hand Finger Puppet – This hand finger puppet is exactly what it sound like. It reminds me of Thing from The Addams Family, but MORE uncanny. I would TRIP if I saw this in a giftbox.

Y’all have fun at all your holiday parties… and if you’re not, you can always tie a fire hose around your waist and jump off the roof. I’m just kidding–DON’T DO THAT. You are not John McClain.

Until next time, I’m Mary Kay, and I’ve been your Virgil through this shopping circle of hell. You can follow me on Instagram or Twitter, and pleeeease let me know of other bookish horror gifts that come across your desk!

Your Virgil,

Mary Kay

The Fright Stuff

Books about Witches

One of my favorite moments on my podcast was when we were closing out an episode and I said, “When shall we three meet again?” and my co-host said, “In thunder, lightning, or in rain?” and the third said, “ALL HAIL MACBETH.”

Obviously, this is a reference to the Weird Sisters of Shakespeare’s tragedy, the Scottish play, and I would like to go on record to say that even though I have had warts on my elbow, I have had them removed, and I thereby reinstate my status as MAIDEN. Not matron. Not crone. MAIDEN, y’all. Also, for the record, the Weird Sisters have never looked weirder than in Justin Kurzel’s film adaptation. See?

That said, there’s just no spookier season than autumn, right, when all the witch lore surfaces. I’m Mary Kay, your Virgil, and in this week’s edition of The Fright Stuff, Book Riot’s newsletter about the latest and greatest in horror, I’ll be guiding you through the circle of hell about witches and witchcraft, specifically.

Ear worm: “Season of the Witch” Lana Del Rey cover, originally performed by Donovan.

Fresh Hells: (FKA new releases)

magical writing grimoire by lisa marie basile the fright stuffThe Magical Writing Grimoire by Lisa Marie Basile

So, Lisa Marie Basile, founder of Luna Luna Magazine and online community, divides that space into LIGHT and DARK, but her newest book is “part guided journaling practice” and “part interactive magical grimoire.” It’s not horror per se, but it is about witches, about how to manifest your dreams into reality.  If you’re into this idea, check out Basile’s book, Light Magic for Dark Times, too. And although these books might be horror-adjacent, the content on Luna Luna definitely delves into the scary.

Toil & Trouble by Augusten Burroughs

All in a tone befitting the other memoirs of Augusten Burroughs, this book of nonfiction chronicles the narrator’s trials to reconcile his powers with descending of a long line of witches. His mom said it was all okay, and he believed her. For a while.



the remaking clay mcleod chapmanThe Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman

I’ve told y’all about this book before, but it really bears repeating on a theme like this one. Chapman’s novel chronicles the urban legend of a witch and her daughter who were burned at the stake… and they are very particular about their reputations. When their story gets retold irresponsibly, it does not go well for the storyteller–this book is the ULTIMATE campfire story because, well, its curse is contagious.

Crypt Keepers: (FKA horror from the backlist)

in love and trouble alice walker book cover“The Revenge of Hannah Kemhuff” by Alice Walker, in her collection of short stories, In Love and Trouble

I LOVED teaching this short story by the inimitable Alice Walker. Not only is she a force of nature, but this story in particular has a deep loathing toward race relations in the Jim Crow south, and the subsequent victory is the most delicious thing. You’re going to love it.


akata-witch-book-coverAkata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny is an American albino girl living in Nigeria, and when she realizes she has magical powers, she joins up with other “free spirits” to defeat a career criminal who also knows magic. This is a fun YA book that uses witchcraft for good.



voodoo dreams by jewell parker rhodes book coverVoodoo Dreams by Jewell Parker Rhodes

If you want to know more about Marie Laveau, the character played by Angela Bassett on American Horror Story: Coven, then you should check out this novel IMMEDIATELY. Laveau is worshipped and feared by all races, beautiful, immortal, and truly cast perfectly in the ageless beauty of Angela Bassett.


i, tituba, black witch of salem by Maryse Condé book coverI, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé

This novel features Tituba, perhaps one of the most famous individual witches at Salem, West Indian slave and alleged witch. It expands on what is historically known about this infamous figure, imagining the life of a woman whose full story has been all but ignored.



Want to see places and artifacts dedicated to the history of witches? Look here.

What happens when Angela Carter gets summoned at a seance? Read this here to find out.

Don’t forget to cast your vote for the Goodreads best books of 2019! Choose wisely in the horror section….

Speaking of Goodreads, check out this article where Carmen Maria Machado discusses her new, horrific memoir.

And congratulations to Gabino Iglesias for winning the Wonderland Award for his horror noir novel Coyote Songs.

Y’all got to see this Renaissance werewolf art.

I’m Mary Kay, and I have been your MAIDEN Weird Sister and guide through this circle of hell. Happy Thanksgiving, and until next week, you can follow me on Instagram or Twitter, and definitely do get up with me if you have recommendations or special requests!

Your Virgil,

Mary Kay

The Fright Stuff

Deliciously Creepy Horror Cookbooks

Raise your hand if you agree that the best line in We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is, “I wonder if I could eat a child if I had the chance.” Be honest.

I know I’m not alone in getting excited about all the nut-so recipes involved in the over-eating during the holidays… I know this because once, while we were waiting in my Grandmama’s southern formal dining room for her to pull something out of the oven that she wouldn’t let us help with, I asked my dad and first cousin, “In a survival situation, who at this table would you eat first?” All of us clapped eyes on the baby at the end of the table.

Of course we’re joking. Of course we are. But I WILL go full Merricat Blackwood if you threaten to send me to bed without my dinner. That said, I thought that with the holidays’ approach, a great theme for this week’s newsletter would be Horror Cookbooks. I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, and you’re in The Fright Stuff, Book Riot’s newsletter about the latest and greatest in horror. I’ll be your Virgil through this edible circle of hell. Y’all steer clear of that chocolate river with the drainage pipes… oh, who am I kidding, that would be THE MOST EPIC WAY TO DIE. Augustus Gloop is my Patronus.

we have always lived in the castle shirley jackson netflix film adaptation the fright stuff

Earworm: “Pure Imagination” performed by Gene Wilder… because the world tastes good because the candy man thinks it shouuuuuuld!

Fresh Hells (FKA “New Releases,” pffft):

the necronomnomnom by mike slater horror cookbooks the fright stuffNecronomnomnom: Recipes and Rites from the Lore of H.P. Lovecraft by Mike Slater

For everyone who loves Lovecraftian horror, Mike Slater has compiled this master cookbook, the Necronomnomnom. Each recipe is accompanied by detailed, horrific illustrations, as well as marginal notes which are seemingly written in by hand, after the fact…

Little Kitchen of Horrors: Hideously Delicious Recipes That Disgust and Delight by Ali Vega

If you remember going to haunted houses as a kid and sticking your hand into a bowl of “eyeballs” or “guts,” well… I have a sneaking suspicion that this cookbook was behind those gags. (Pun intended.) It contains recipes for “Crispy Fried Mice,” “Bulging Cake Eyeballs,” and “Juicy Bat Wings.” If you want to get your kid to cook, but they’re only interested in nasty stuff, this book is the perfect read for you.

Crypt Keepers:

deceptive desserts christine mcconnell funny cookbooksDeceptive Desserts: A Lady’s Guide to Baking Bad by Christine McConnell

You might know Christine McConnell as the Instagram personality, or from her Netflix show The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, but even if you don’t, you’ll love this cookbook of horror themed desserts. (I’ve tried a few of these recipes, and while hers become works of art worthy of being bronzed and put in a museum, mine were merely delicious and spooky.) You’ll learn everything from a Bridezilla wedding cake to Cinderella’s pumpkin pie carriage. Oh! And if you love the book, which you will, check out From the Mind of Christine McConnell, her YouTube channel!

the african-american ritual cookbook by lilith dorsey the fright stuffThe African-American Ritual Cookbook by Lilith Dorsey

Though this cookbook is not specifically designed to scare, Lilith Dorsey, its author, is a practitioner of several spiritualities than have been known to strike fear into the hearts of their oppressors. These recipes invoke the beliefs of New Orleans Voodoo, Santeria, and Haitian Voodoo with rituals for “love, money healing, protection, luck and more.”


the lucretia borgia cookbook dorothy blinder funny cookbooksThe Lucretia Borgia Cookbook: Favorite Recipes of Infamous People by Dorothy Blinder

If you’re fascinated with the eating habits of infamous people, you need this book as much as I do! I mean, how can anyone help but wonder what John Dillinger’s favorite dessert is/was… or Rasputin’s preferences?




Want to know what Hamlet’s food symbolized in the famous tragedy? You do.

For Thanksgiving, would you perhaps like to make a demogorgonzola tartlet? Or maybe some hot buttered redrum? Head on over to The Homicidal Homemaker–she’s SO cool.

Have you voted in the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2019? Be sure you make a wise selection in the horror category!

Disney+ has a lot of horror for children streaming. Here’s a list. And you KNOW Don’t Look Under the Bed is on there!

Calling back to The Fright Stuff newsletter about Folk Horror, Robert Eggers lets us know if it’s The Witch or The VVitch.

And, in case you’re as obsessed with Eggers as I am (no, no, I’m super chill. It’s cool. I don’t have some of his hair at home), you can look forward to this film short, which is adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

And speaking of Lovecraft (from the Necronomnomnom, above), we have updates on Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams’ produced Lovecraft Country.

Last note on film adaptations: Stephen King is not fazed by low box office numbers of Doctor Sleep.

And in case you’re still hungry for more horror hors d’oeuvres (say that out loud, I dare you), check out this Book Riot post about Funny Cookbooks.

I’m Mary Kay, and I have been your spirit guide through this realm of deadly food. Until next week, you can follow me on Instagram or Twitter, and definitely do get up with me if you have recommendations or special requests!

Your Virgil,

Mary Kay