I tried to read as many new releases as I could this past year. I believe it was forty-eight books, but I could be wrong. I’ll be honest, I didn’t finish everything. Some titles just weren’t to my taste. Some I finished and simply didn’t make it onto a list. Below is purely my opinion, books that spoke to me, and I thank those authors for writing such incredible works.
All cover art is owned by the authors/publishers and I've provided links to each book in the title.
Let’s start with 5 COLLECTIONS. This was by far the hardest category. Every title listed here is utterly fantastic and the numbering is almost arbitrary.
#5 – DEVIATIONS FROM THE NORM by Mark Allan Gunnells
Packaged as three novellas, these are wonderfully original takes on classic themes. The origin of vampires, the time travel paradox, and the deal with the devil are all retold in magnificent fashion. With a remarkable voice, all three tales are stunning, but I found the second to be the weakest. Still, I absolutely recommend this book.
#4 – SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLOOD SOAKED by Christa Carmen
Carmen gives us some of the most personal and heart-wrenching horror stories to be collected in a long time, wonderfully character-driven. It’s rare to find intimate and exquisite horror like this, tales so terribly relatable in their honesty. No doubt an important new voice in the genre.
#3 – THE HUMAN ALCHEMY by Michael Griffin
Griffin writes Weird Horror in a magnificent fashion, haunting and gripping. The stories are quiet, yet visceral, burrowing deep into your psyche. I could only read a few at a time, their impact lingering deeply. Highly recommend for fans of Laird Barron, Livia Llewelyn, and John Claude Smith.
#2 – THE SEA WAS A FAIR MASTER by Calvin Demmer
Demmer has created a stunning collection of dark flash fiction, its horrors touching on sci-fi, noir, humor, and fantasy. Each tale is a glimpse into his fertile and macabre imagination, literary slivers that will keep you riveted. I highly recommend for fans of Richard Thomas or Harlan Ellison.
#1 – OCCASIONAL BEASTS by John Claude Smith
To enter the imaginative landscape of John Claude Smith is to enter a certain, particular madness. It is rich and vibrant, sharp and sensual. Smith believes in art and beauty, and he believes it is just as glorious when warped and disfigured. The stories are deeply uncomfortable and equally compelling, as all great weird horror should be. Many of them linger in my psyche, still fraying at the edges.
Now we have 5 NOVELLAS.
#5 – MANIFEST RECALL by Alan Baxter
A fast-paced novella of noir with supernatural themes, filled with violence, action, and possibly ghosts. Definitely more a thriller than horror, but absolutely engaging. You’ll be hooked by the first page and finish it in a single evening.
#4 – CHAINSAW by John Bender
Utterly bonkers in the best way, full of absurd violence and dirty jokes. This is the kind of insanity you’d get if Tarintino explored white trash America. Great fun, and a great quick read.
#3 – SHILOH by Philip Fracassi
A gripping and lyrical novella of historical horror, with a unique take on lore. The American Civil War is painting grimly amidst the increasingly strange and terrifying events twin brothers find themselves partaking in. The bonus story is equally well-told and unsettling, a fine dive into cosmic horror.
#2 – KINGDOM OF TEETH by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason
A beautifullly bizarre novella from the Sisters Of Slaughter, the most exciting writing duo in contemporary horror fiction. When a loser gets transported to the realm of the Tooth Fairies, things get violent and absurd quickly. Ultimately a fairytale adventure, the story is rich with dark insanity, making it a wonderfully fun read.
#1 – BROKEN SHELLS by Michael Patrick Hicks
Hicks weaves a wonderfully claustrophobic and grotesque tale of monsters, with strong political undertones. It’s a fun and brutal read, from an important voice. A great novella for fans of gore with a meaning.
Finally, the 10 NOVELS. The bulk of what I consumed this year,
#10 – TWIN LAKES: AUTUMN FIRE by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason
The Sisters of Slaughter do it again, this time with a small town supernatural thriller that has you flipping pages with growing tension. Witches and werewolves, mediums and monsters, the town of Twin Lakes may seem idyllic to some, but it harbors many dark secrets. A serial killer utilizing occult practices has gained the attention of various factions in the town, and a young woman fleeing an attacker stumbles far too close for anyone’s liking. TW:AF is a frantic dash into terror and brutality, one I definitely recommend.
#9 – KILL HILL CARNAGE by Tim Meyer
KILL HILL CARNAGE is wonderfully brutal fun and disgusting in all the right ways. Reminiscent of the best pulp horror, it features horny teenagers, vicious monsters, mad scientists, and even a camp massacre. If you’re looking for a bloody good time, you won’t be disappointed.
#8 – BAD DOGS by Nate Southard
BAD DOGS is an absolutely fantastic novel of supernatural noir in the rust belt. White trash mage Charlie Crawford seeks to protect his town from demons, meth-dealers, the Dixie Mafia, and other ills in a story equally brutal and hysterical. Fans of John Constantine and/or Supernatural will love what Southard has created here, a unique take on the dirty corner of magic with a wonderfully flawed protagonist.
#7 – BEHIND THE DOOR by Mary SanGiovanni
A fantastic tale full of rich characters and manifested nightmares, BEHIND THE DOOR is a worthy successor to the excellent novel CHILL. Cosmic Horror is rarely as intimate as we see here, wonderfully told in a brutal and heart-wrenching fashion. If you’re looking for a police procedural with a terrifying edge, you won’t be disappointed.
#6 – RETURN TO DYATLOV PASS by J.H. Moncrieff
An intriguing adventure/horror tale seeking answers for that historical tragedy that occurred in the Russian mountains. Various theories are tossed around, things get weird, then things get bloody. Some readers don’t like the ending, but I thought it was perfect.
#5 – THE NIGHTMARE ROOM by Chris Sorensen
A classic style horror novel in all the best ways, with nods to familiar tropes without being cliche. Disturbing on both a mundane and supernatural level, everything about the story feels real. I’d highly recommend it for someone looking to dip their toes into the genre.
#4 – THEY FEED by Jason Parent
This book hooked me from the first page with its wonderfully gross and brutal tale, one that that I literally read in one sitting. A creature feature with many unique twists, I never saw any of those turns coming. Darkly fun, unbelievably disgusting, with a dash of social commentary, THEY FEED should be on the reading list of every fan of contemporary horror.
#3 – THE BEAST OF BRENTON WOODS by Jackson R. Thomas
I tore through this book in two sittings, less than 24 hours. An absolutely riveting read, full of believable characters and flowing gore. Terrific werewolf terror that is contemporary in pace and vision, but with a perfect nod to pulp classics. Highly recommend for anyone looking for an entertaining, bloody, horror novel.
#2 – THE RUST MAIDENS by Gwendolyn Kiste
Absolutely stunning “Rust-Belt Gothic,” a tale of five young women succumbing to a mysterious metamorphosis in 1980’s Cleveland. Wonderfully developed characters and the era expertly set, the novel also has an unnerving quality thread throughout that builds to the end. Not only one of the best books I’ve read this year, but one I feel I would recommend to readers of multiple genres.
#1 – CORPSEPAINT by David Peak
A magnificent, character-driven tale that keeps you turning pages. A slow burn of heavy metal and cosmic horror, wonderfully told. An untold tale of behind-the-scenes music industry and ancient, galactic monstrosities. Another book I’ve recommended to many people outside the genre, one that hasn’t gotten the accolades it deserves.