Three books mentioned in this months bookclub. Image: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Quirk Books; and Redhook.

The Mary Sue Book Club, October 2022: Speculative Horror & The Grim Realities That Shape These Stories

Occult history, elite boarding schools, and missing persons.

When the clock struck midnight on September 23, the spooky season began, so of course, most of October’s books have to reflect that. Of course, talented writers like Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Victor LaValle and Stephen Graham Jones write these stories year-round, but it feels like in September and October, there’s an influx of these stories as publishing capitalizes on the collective want to read about the supernatural and macabre.

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This list features mostly stories of fiction in the realm of horror, fantasy, and thriller mysteries. Each one is colored by the sinister aspects of humanity, such as real trauma and bigotry that ends in violence. However, sprinkled in, we’ve found at least one graphic novel memoir about the all-too-real terror of a country that values guns more than people. Additionally, the last book on this month’s list features a collection of resistance histories where magic practitioners sought power and kinship in a patriarchal world.

Jackel by Erin Adams

Jackel by Erin Adams (Image: Bantam.)

It’s watching.

Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn’t exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town. But her best friend is getting married, so she braces herself for a weekend of awkward, passive-aggressive reunions. Liz has grown, though; she can handle whatever awaits her. But on the day of the wedding, somewhere between dancing and dessert, the couple’s daughter, Caroline, disappears–and the only thing left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood.

It’s taking.

As a frantic search begins, with the police combing the trees for Caroline, Liz is the only one who notices a pattern: A summer night. A missing girl. A party in the woods. She’s seen this before. Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in Liz’s high school, walked into the woods with a mysterious man and was later found with her chest cavity ripped open and her heart removed. Liz shudders at the thought that it could have been her, and now, with Caroline missing, it can’t be a coincidence.

As Liz starts to dig through the town’s history, she uncovers a horrifying secret about the place she once called home. Children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls.

It’s your turn.

With the evil in the forest creeping closer, Liz knows what she must do: find Caroline, or be entirely consumed by the darkness.

Jackel releases on October 4.

It Rides a Pale Horse by Andy Marino

It Rides a Pale Horse by Andy Marino (Image: Redhook.)

The Larkin siblings are known around the small town of Wofford Falls. Both are artists, but Peter Larkin, Lark to his friends, is the hometown hero. The one who went to the big city and got famous, then came back and settled down. He’s the kind of guy who becomes fast friends with almost anyone. His sister Betsy on the other hand is more… eccentric. She keeps to herself.

When Lark goes to deliver one of his latest pieces to a fabulously rich buyer, it seems like a regular transaction. Even being met at the gate of the sprawling, secluded estate by an intimidating security guard seems normal. Until the guard plays him a live feed: Betsy being abducted in real time.

Lark is informed that she’s safe for now, but her well-being is entirely in his hands. He’s given a book. Do what the book says, and Betsy will go free.It seems simple enough. But as Lark begins to read he realizes: the book might be demonic. Its writer may be unhinged. His sister’s captors are almost certainly not what they seem. And his town and those within it are… changing. And the only way out is through.

It Rides a Pale Horse releases on October 4.

Numb to This: Memoir of a Mass Shooting by Kindra Neely

Numb to This: Memoir of a Mass Shooting by Kindra Neely (Image: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.)
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Kindra Neely never expected it to happen to her. No one does. Sure, she’d sometimes been close to gun violence, like when the house down the street from her childhood home in Texas was targeted in a drive-by shooting. But now she lived in Oregon, where she spent her time swimming in rivers with friends or attending classes at the bucolic Umpqua Community College.

And then, one day, it happened: a mass shooting shattered her college campus. Over the span of a few minutes, on October 1, 2015, eight students and a professor lost their lives. And suddenly, Kindra became a survivor. This empathetic and ultimately hopeful graphic memoir recounts Kindra’s journey forward from those few minutes that changed everything.

It wasn’t easy. Every time Kindra took a step toward peace and wholeness, a new mass shooting devastated her again. Las Vegas. Parkland. She was hopeless at times, feeling as if no one was listening. Not even at the worldwide demonstration March for Our Lives. But finally, Kindra learned that–for her–the path toward hope wound through art, helping others, and sharing her story.

Numb to This releases on October 11.

If You Could See the Sun by Ann Liang

If You Could See The Sun by Ann Liang (Image: Inkyard Press.)
(Inkyard Press)

Alice Sun has always felt invisible at her elite Beijing international boarding school, where she’s the only scholarship student among China’s most rich and influential teens. But then she starts uncontrollably turning invisible–actually invisible.

When her parents drop the news that they can no longer afford her tuition, even with the scholarship, Alice hatches a plan to monetize her strange new power–she’ll discover the scandalous secrets her classmates want to know, for a price.

But as the tasks escalate from petty scandals to actual crimes, Alice must decide if it’s worth losing her conscience–or even her life.

If You Could See The Sun releases on October 11.

Self-Portrait With Nothing by Aimee Pokwatka

Self-Portrait With Nothing by Aimee Pokwatka (Image: Tordotcom.)

If a picture paints a thousand worlds . . .

Abandoned as an infant on the local veterinarian’s front porch, Pepper Rafferty was raised by two loving mothers, and now, at thirty-six is married to the stable, supportive Ike. She’s never told anyone that at fifteen she discovered the identity of her biological mother. That’s because her birth mother is Ula Frost, a reclusive painter famous for the outrageous claims that her portraits summon their subjects’ doppelgängers from parallel universes.

Researching the rumors, Pepper couldn’t help but wonder: Is there a parallel universe in which she is more confident, more accomplished, better able to accept love? A universe in which Ula decided she was worth keeping? A universe in which Ula’s rejection didn’t still hurt too much to share?

Self-Portrait With Nothing releases on October 18.

Toil and Trouble: A Women’s History of the Occult by Lisa Kröger & Melanie R. Anderson

Toil and Trouble: A Women’s History of the Occult by Lisa Kröger & Melanie R. Anderson (Image: Quirk Books.)
(Quirk Books)

Meet the mystical women and nonbinary people from US history who found strength through the supernatural–and those who are still forging the way today. From the celebrity spirit mediums of the nineteenth century to contemporary activist witches hexing the patriarchy, these icons have long used magic and mysticism to seize the power they’re so often denied.

Organized around different approaches women in particular have taken to the occult over the decades–using the supernatural for political gain, seeking fame and fortune as spiritual practitioners, embracing their witchy identities, and more–this book shines a light on underappreciated magical pioneers, including:
✦ Dion Fortune, who tried to marshal a magical army against Adolf Hitler
✦ Bri Luna, the Hoodwitch, social media star and serious magical practitioner
 Joan Quigley, personal psychic to Nancy Reagan
✦ Marie Laveau, voodoo queen of New Orleans
 Elvira, queer goth sex symbol who defied the Satanic Panic

Toil and Trouble releases on October 25.

Which of these are you most excited to check out? Let us know in the comments if we missed a (non-sequel) book you’ve been waiting for!

(featured image: Peachtree Teen, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, and Tor Books)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.