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Lisa Frankenstein, The Graveyard Book, and Other Not-Too-Scary SFF Stories

Enjoy the frights without the nightmares.

Screenshot of Lisa Frankenstein
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  • Photo Credit: Focus Features / YouTube

February sees the release of Lisa Frankenstein, a feisty ‘80s-inspired Frankenstein retelling. The film, directed by Zelda Williams and written by Diablo Cody, stars Kathryn Newton as a misunderstood teenage goth who brings to life a handsome corpse from the Victorian era (played by Cole Sprouse). Labeled as a horror comedy and rated PG-13, Lisa Frankenstein is the perfect movie for those who like sci-fi and fantasy but nothing too unsettling. 

If Lisa Frankenstein sounds up your alley, here are nine SFF novels that will excite you but not leave you needing to keep the lights on after dark. 

Not-Too-Scary Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Neil Gaiman books

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman’s spooky reimagining of The Jungle Book adds ghosts and tombstones to the classic tale. Nobody “Bod” Owens would be a normal boy if he didn't live in a graveyard ... or if he weren't raised by the specters who exist between life and death. 

At least the ghosts are willing to nurture Bod, however. The real danger lies outside the graveyard, because that's where the man who killed Bod's family lives.

Dead Upon a Time

Dead Upon a Time

By Elizabeth Paulson

Most fairy tales are actually total nightmares. In Kate's world, poisoned apples are more common than handsome princes. Understandably, she avoids this danger as much as she can, but one day, she heads to her grandmother's house in the woods—and finds her grandmother has been abducted. Already an outcast, Kate can't get any help from the villagers who hate her. 

Only Jack, another outsider who dared to take on a giant, will assist her. Soon, others are disappearing, including a beloved princess. Could her stepmother be to blame, or is something even more sinister going on in the woods? There’s no happy ever after in sight for Kate and Jack. 

The Graces

The Graces

By Laure Eve

Fenrin Grace is the playboy of his school, constantly seducing girls without ever meaning to. He’s biding his time until someone special comes along. Someone different. Fenrin’s twin, Thalia, is equally as intoxicating. Wherever she goes, she leaves a trail of obsessed followers. Then there's Summer, the only one of the three who is open about her powers. Everyone wants to be a Grace, but only River will do anything to actually become one.

Dangerous Girls

Dangerous Girls

By R.L. Stine

R.L. Stine is an undeniable legend thanks to his long-running Goosebumps series, which helped to make generations of kids into horror fans. But he has other books to his name, such as the Dangerous Girls series, which brought vampires to YA many years before the Twilight phenomenon. Destiny Weller and her twin sister Livvy are sent to a summer at Camp Blue Moon. When they return home, they've changed. Now, they crave blood. Keeping their new vampiric status secret from their family is hard enough, but now there are vampire hunters on their tail. Destiny desperately wants to find a way to stop the horror. Livvy is intoxicated by her new powers. They need to stay alive or lose everything.

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

Nettle & Bone

By T. Kingfisher

Marra is the youngest daughter of a family seemingly cursed to suffer. Her sisters have been tormented by an abusive prince, and Marra is all too aware that nobody is going to save them. So, it's up to Marra herself to help her sisters. Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince, but only if she can complete three impossible tasks. Along with the witch, a fairy godmother, a former knight, and a possessed demon chicken, Marra must become the hero of her own story.

An old woman walks toward a distant castle in the sky on the cover of "Howl's Moving Castle" by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle

By Diana Wynne Jones

While many people might know Howl's Moving Castle best from the beautiful Studio Ghibli adaptation, the original novel is far better. Sophie is a wallflower who is cursed by the Witch of the Waste and turned into an old lady. In hopes of freeing herself from this fate, she leaves home for the first time and chases after the wizard Howl, whose castle roams across the land on four legs and never stays in one place for too long. Howl is a heartless brute, but there's something locked within him that only Sophie can free. Together, they may be able to untangle themselves from the enchantments that have trapped them.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes

By Ray Bradbury

One of the best-known novels by one of sci-fi fiction's true legends, Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of the pioneering dark fantasy novels of the 20th century (and one of the few times that Disney ever made a horror movie, adapting the novel in 1983!) William "Will" Halloway and Jim Nightshade are two teen boys who meet a strange salesman named Tom Fury. He tells them that a storm is coming. Soon, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show arrives in town and begins to wreak havoc over all who encounter its dark magic. The boys must uncover its secrets or pay the price. Something Wicked This Way Comes was an influence on everyone from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman to R.L. Stine.

Two orcs work as barristas at a medieval bakery on the cover of 'Legends and Lattes' by Travis Baldree

Legends & Lattes

By Travis Baldree

Everyone expects orcs to be ferocious warriors who could tear your limbs apart without a second thought. In this Hugo-nominated title, however, Viv has other dreams. After a lifetime of battles and blood, she wants to hang up her sword and open a coffee shop. The people of Thune have no idea what coffee is. Viv's got a lot of work to do to establish her dream business, convert the creatures of Thune to caffeine addicts, and keep her past at bay. But at least she'll have a good hot drink and flaky pastry by her side to help her through it.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

By Sangu Mandanna

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon is aware of the responsibilities that come with her powers. She has to keep her head down and hide her abilities, although she finds some freedom through her online presence where she pretends to be a witch. Nobody's meant to take it seriously, but someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. Now, Mika has a trio of charges to care for, a hot but prickly gardener to fawn over, and an unexpected threat hiding around the corner, far scarier and more dangerous than magic.

Featured image: Focus Features / YouTube