8 Spine-Chilling Books About Occult Mysteries
Supernatural stories about ghosts, magic, and seances
At some time in every child’s life, the occult makes its mark. Nothing truly Exorcist level, but scary nevertheless. Remember all those ghost stories, and getting a little too excited about being freaked out on Halloween? I personally never did a Ouija board—too chicken! Even though I always doubted the truth of these things, they still chilled me. Growing up in Baltimore, kids would tell various stories about the legendary Black Aggie. In my neighborhood version, if you switched the bathroom lights on and off, twirled around, and chanted “Black Aggie, I love you!” seven times, she’d show up in your mirror appearing dead and drowned. It was over a year before I’d go into a dark bathroom alone.
Writing Opium and Absinthe deliciously tapped into that fear and fascination. The book is a trip back in time where mystery and the occult intertwine until truth sheds light on a family disaster. My main character, Tillie Pembroke, is driven to solve the murder of her sister, whose body is found drained of blood in the shadow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s 1899, the same year that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is released in the United States.
I’m a fan of Stoker’s book, but the modern cinematic version by Francis Ford Coppola left an indelible mark in my memory as well. Opium and Absinthe is a tribute to Dracula, and to those who love to be scared while reading and wondering what’s real and what isn’t—in the safety of their very non-occult home.
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
I’ve been a fan of the movie Practical Magic since it released in 1998, but didn’t read the book until much later. When the prequel came out, I knew I’d gobble up the back story to this family of witches. The book brings you into the charmed (and not so charmed) lives of Franny, Jet, and Vincent. The story is more of a slow unfolding of truths and revelations, rather than a true mystery. But no doubt you’ll be reading it as if secrets hide on every page.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Cat Winters is a friend and a favorite author of mine. She does historical fiction so well that I asked her to read A Beautiful Poison for accuracy. Her historical fiction is immersive, and this book not only has a supernatural element to it (seances and spiritual photography) but also covers the fear and panic of the 1918 influenza epidemic.
The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker
This book also takes place at the turn of the last century (I can’t help it! I love that time period!). Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, and Ahmed is a jinni, a creature of fire born in the Syrian desert. They meet in the dirty, difficult, noisy world of New York City. As their creation stories and present stories intertwine, I was absolutely transported into their world. It’s one of my favorite books, ever.
Affinity by Sarah Waters
If you’re not already a fan of Sarah Waters, this book will make you one. In Victorian-era England, Margaret Prior begins to visit Millbank Prison for women and becomes enamored with one of the inmates. The story evolves wondrously with its medium and spiritualism, twists, and forbidden loves.
The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, translated by Sonia Soto
The main character is a book detective. How can you not love that? Lucas Corso is trying to authenticate a portion of the original manuscript of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, but is pulled into a whirlwind mystery involving devil worship and a cast of characters as memorable as those in The Three Musketeers. Entertaining from start to finish.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
This book—a gothic tale with a delicious romance that seems both otherworldly and timeless—is steeped in atmosphere and creepiness. April’s writing is gorgeous, and it’s easy to get lost in this fictional sleeper town where odd things start happening, and you’re not quite sure if you’re awake or dreaming.
The Diviners by Libba Bray
This is a young adult novel, but don’t let that stop you from reading it. In the roaring 1920s, its heroine tries to solve a set of murders, possibly by an awakened spirit named Naughty John. The opening chapter has a Ouija board which nearly made me scream out loud. I couldn’t put this novel down. The Diviners was nominated for the Bram Stoker award, for good reason.
A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell
How can I say no to sixteen stories of the supernatural from some of my favorite authors? You’ll find witches and sun beings, a sorcerer’s apprentice, a girl who can turn hearts to ash, charms, and curses. You’ll find strength and resiliency, sadness and heartbreak. Yes, you will get goosebumps, and no, you won’t be able to put it down. Some of my favorites are by Rebecca Roanhorse, Karen Strong, and Dhonielle Clayton. Brilliant.