Anti-Christmas reads for Grinches

If even the slightest whisper of Christmas cheer feels like fingernails grinding on a a chalkboard then these are the books for you. This list has it all – cults, creepy children, grisly medical operations, frightening dystopian visions of the future, families murdering their own – and you can find even more recommendations in the collection below.


Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

One hot August day a family drives to a mountain clearing to collect birch wood. Jenny, the mother, is in charge of lopping any small limbs off the logs with a hatchet. Wade, the father, does the stacking. The two daughters, June and May, aged nine and six, drink lemonade, swat away horseflies, bicker, sing snatches of songs as they while away the time. But then something unimaginably shocking happens, an act so extreme that nothing will ever be the same again.


The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

The Trauma Cleaner is an exploration of the extraordinary life and work of Sandra Pankurst. Born a little boy who was shunned by his adopted family, she’s been a husband and father, drag queen, one of Australia’s first gender reassignment patients, a sex worker, a small businesswoman and a trophy wife… This book focuses on perhaps her most intriguing aspect of all: her job as a trauma cleaner, working with people who’ve suffered their own enormous trauma or loss to give them a practical clean start.


Grace by Paul Lynch

Grace is a sweeping, Dickensian tale of a young girl and her brother on a great journey across nineteenth-century Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine. Paul Lynch’s language is lush and lyrical, powerfully evoking the intimate and daily horrors of this world-altering period in history, and the world he paints is deeply grim.


History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Teenage Linda lives with her parents in an ex-commune in the beautiful, austere backwoods of northern Minnesota. The other inhabitants have moved on and Linda – ignored by her parents, bullied by her schoolmates – is left to her own devices. When a picture perfect family move in nearby, Linda begins to babysit their little boy, Paul, thankful to find a place she might belong. Yet something isn’t right. Drawn into secrets she doesn’t understand, Linda realises she must make a choice.


The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris

Victorian operating theatres were known as ‘gateways of death’. Imagine squalid, overcrowded hospitals – an era when a broken leg could lead to amputation and surgeons were still known to ransack cemeteries to find cadavers. Surgery couldn’t have been more dangerous, until an unlikely figure stepped forward: Joseph Lister, a young Quaker surgeon. With a novelist’s eye for detail, historian Lindsey Fitzharris brilliantly conjures up the grisly world of Victorian surgery, and tells the story of the man who changed the medical world forever.


The Stranger by Melanie Raabe (translated by Imogen Taylor)

When Philip Petersen disappears without trace on a trip to South America, his wife, Sarah, is left to bring up their son on her own. Seven years later, Sarah receives the unexpected news that Philip is still alive. But the man who greets her before a crowd of journalists at the airport is a stranger, and when the two are alone he threatens Sarah – if she exposes him, she will lose everything. This is another unsettling and slippery psychological thriller from German author Melanie Raabe.


Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Future Home of the Living God is a chilling and provocative dystopian novel. Set in the near future, evolution has reversed itself and science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. For Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of open-minded Minneapolis liberals, this change is profound and deeply personal – she is four months pregnant. Compelled to find her birth mother, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, Cedar sets off on a journey as society begins to disintegrate.


Mayhem by Sigrid Rausing

In the summer of 2012 a woman named Eva was found dead in the London townhouse she shared with her husband, Hans K. Rausing. The couple had struggled with drug addiction for years, often under the glare of tabloid headlines. Now, writing with singular clarity and restraint the editor and publisher Sigrid Rausing, tries to make sense of what happened to her brother and his wife. Mayhem is a searingly powerful memoir about the impact of addiction on a family.


My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

At 14, Turtle Alveston knows the use of every gun on her wall, that chaos is coming and only the strong will survive it, that her daddy loves her more than anything else in this world – and that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her with him. When she makes a friend, it might be the bravest and most terrifying thing she has ever done, but she doesn’t know what will happen if her daddy find out.


The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Lane Roanoke is 15 when she comes to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin at the Roanoke family’s rural estate following the suicide of her mother. Over one long, hot summer, Lane experiences the benefits of being one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But what she doesn’t know is being a Roanoke girl carries a terrible legacy: either the girls run, or they die. For there is darkness at the heart of Roanoke, and when Lane discovers its insidious pull, she must make her choice…


The Family by Chris Johnston & Rosie Jones

The apocalyptic group The Family and their guru, Anne Hamilton-Byrne, captured international headlines throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The group, which grew out of Hamilton-Byrne’s yoga classes in the heady days of the countercultural movement, became surrounded by rumours of LSD use, child abuse, and strange spiritual rituals. Drawing on police files, diary entries, recordings of Anne, and original interviews with survivors and investigators, Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones go inside one of the most bizarre cults in modern history to expose its strange and shocking story.


Such Small Hands by Andres Barba (translated by Lisa Dillman)

Her father died instantly, her mother in the hospital. She has learned to say this flatly and without emotion, the way she says her name (Marina), her doll’s name (also Marina) and her age (seven). Her parents were killed in a car crash and now she lives in the orphanage with the other little girls. But Marina is not like the other little girls. Andres Barba presents hyperreal, feverishly serious world of childhood in this tense, compact ghost story. This is a bedtime story to keep readers awake.

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My Absolute Darling

My Absolute Darling

Gabriel Tallent

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