I’m a couple of days late with this post, but if you’re following this blog, you should be accustomed to that by now.
Even though 2016 was widely regarded as one of the crappiest years in recent memory, it was quite eventful for Bloodshot Books. We published the 2nd volume of NOT YOUR AVERAGE MONSTER and began our Second Sight line of reprints. In May and June. we held our first open call for novels and received so many stellar submissions that I ended up accepting 9 novels rather than the 5-6 for which I had initially planned. I can’t wait to unleash them upon the world.
2017 is poised to be even bigger, and, as I did last year, I’m starting it off with a recap of my top reads from 2016. Last year I posted the Top 13, regardless of when the books were published. This time, I’m switching things up with 16 choices. I didn’t limit myself to books that were only published in 2016, so the 16 titles are split into two groups: 8 works that originally came out in 2016, and 8 that were published more than a year ago. The only guidelines I gave myself were a) I obviously couldn’t list any of the Bloodshot Books titles, no matter how much I loved them, and b) I had to have read the books for the first time in 2016
So, here we go!
THIS YEAR’S TOP 8 READS PUBLISHED BEFORE 2016
#8. PILLOWFACE by Kristopher Rufty – Just a fun coming-of-age slasher novel that seems tailor-made for the screen. Rufty is one of the most consistent authors in the horror genre today.
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Joel Olsen loves all things devoted to horror: Movies, comics, books, and of course his true passion, special effects. Being raised by his older sister Haley after the sudden death of their parents, Joel is in a world truly of his own. But at the launch of summer vacation Joel finds lying bloodied and near death in his backyard, a masked man that is the epitome of what he adores. A flesh and blood slasher maniac! When he invites the masked man into his home to recover from his wounds an unexpected friendship is born, but Joel quickly realizes he’s actually become involved in a true to life horror tale that he’ll be lucky to survive. This maniac known as Pillowface is not only an uncontrollable killing machine, but he also has others searching for him, and they will go to great and bloody lengths to find him.
#7. REWINDER by Brett Battles – Besides horror, another guilty pleasure I have is time travel/alternate history, and this book, the 1st in a series, perfectly fit the bill.
Synopsis: You will never read Denny Younger’s name in any history book, but the world as you know it wouldn’t be the same without him. Denny was born into one of the lowest rungs of society, but his bleak fortunes changed the day the mysterious Upjohn Institute recruited him. The role: “verifier of personal histories.” The job title: Rewinder. After accepting the offer, Denny discovers he’ll have to do his research in person…by traveling through time.
Using a device capable of opening a portal into any era from the past, Denny is sent back to serve as an eyewitness to significant moments in human history. But as he journeys across the centuries, he begins to suspect that his missions to “observe and report” have a much darker purpose. When a time jump drops Denny into the midst of a rebellion, he finds himself in over his head in a deadly game where even the smallest choices can have catastrophic consequences.
Armed only with his wits and his time-travel device, Denny’s adventures take readers on a pulse-pounding journey of page-turning twists. But will everything he’s got be enough?
#6. ALL THE EARTH, THROWN TO THE SKY by Joe R. Lansdale – This is technically a YA novel, but don’t let that stop you. I love coming-of-age novels and I love anything by Lansdale, so this was a natural choice. As expected, it does not disappoint.
Synopsis: Jack Catcher’s parents are dead—his mom died of sickness and his dad of a broken heart—and he has to get out of Oklahoma, where dust storms have killed everything green, hopeful, or alive. When former classmate Jane and her little brother Tony show up in his yard with plans to steal a dead neighbor’s car and make a break for Texas, Jack doesn’t need much convincing. But a run-in with one of the era’s most notorious gangsters puts a crimp in Jane’s plan, and soon the three kids are hitching the rails among hobos, gangsters, and con men, racing to warn a carnival wrestler turned bank robber of the danger he faces and, in the process, find a new home for themselves. This road trip adventure from the legendary Joe R. Lansdale is a thrilling and colorful ride through Depression-era America.
#5. LONGBARROW by Mark Morris – One of my goals this year was to discover more authors that haven’t yet received the recognition stateside that they truly deserve. Morris is one of those individuals. He had a couple of books published here in the 90s [THE HORROR CLUB (aka TOADY in the UK) and STITCH], but the majority of his novels were only available in the UK. I aim to change that someday… perhaps as a Second Sight release? Hmmmm…
Synopsis: When David Wisher’s mother inherits a house in a Yorkshire village, he feels he is coming home, for he has seen the house in his dreams. When he arrives, he finds a place touched by ancient stories and beliefs – including the legend of the Seven Sleepers, spreading evil, pestilence and destruction.
#4. THE DEATH HOUSE by Sarah Pinborough – Yes, another author from the UK, but Ms. Pinborough is one we should all know by now. It seems that she has a new title out every 2-3 months and that trend won’t slowing down any time. soon. This tale came out in September of ’15, but I didn’t get to read it until early ’16. Since then I’ve lent it to multiple friends and they all loved it.
Synopsis: Toby’s life was perfectly normal… until it was unraveled by something as simple as a blood test. Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House; an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They’re looking for any sign of sickness. Any sign of their wards changing. Any sign that it’s time to take them to the sanatorium.
No one returns from the sanatorium.
Living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes. Because everybody dies. It’s how you choose to live that counts.
#3. CHASM by Stephen Laws – Laws is my kind of horror author. He writes big fat horror tomes with numerous plot-threads that all come together in an epic climax. CHASM fits that bill perfectly. I recommend all of his books.
Synopsis: What lurks in the darkness of the chasm?
Edmonville was an ordinary town full of ordinary citizens going about their everyday business. Then the tremor hit. Glass shattered, concrete crumbled, buildings collapsed, and everything vanished beneath choking clouds of dust. The few survivors emerged, only to confront a terrifying and unbelievable sight.What lurks in the darkness of the chasm? Edmonville was an ordinary town full of ordinary citizens going about their everyday business. Then the tremor hit. Glass shattered, concrete crumbled,
Most of Edmonville has disappeared into an enormous crevasse. The ruined buildings that remain are perched on a series of peaks, many of them separated from each other by hundreds of feet. The world outside seems to no longer exist.
But something is stirring deep below in the darkness. Something is about to emerge from the depths to unleash a horrifying onslaught on the survivors, an onslaught that will become a desperate fight to stay alive.
#2. BY THE TIME WE LEAVE HERE, WE’LL BE FRIENDS by J. David Osborne – I found this book in the list of suggestions on Amazon after reading SKULLCRACK CITY by Jeremy Robert Johnson, and it’s one of my favorite discoveries in a long time. This is one messed-up novel, folks, and if you know me, that’s exactly what drew me to it. It’s a bleak fever dream with characters that have few redeeming qualities. I will certainly be reading more of Osborne’s twisted prose in the future.
Synopsis: Siberia, 1953. Stalin is dead and a once-prosperous thief named Alek Karriker is feeling the pressure. Trapped in an icy prison camp where violent criminals run the show, betrayed by his friends and his body, Karriker is surrounded by death and disorder. Bizarre Inuit shamans are issuing ever-stranger commands that he must obey. Opium is running scarce and bad magic is plentiful. Razor-tooth gangsters can smell Karriker’s blood and they plan to murder him more than once. The only option: ESCAPE.
Enlisting the aid of an aging guard, a cold-blooded killer, and a beautiful, murderous nurse, Karriker must now secure his getaway by finding a “calf”: a gullible prisoner to be cannibalized when the tundra is at its most barren. As the vice grows tighter and life in the gulag becomes increasingly surreal, Karriker must hurry to find his mark and convince him…
BY THE TIME WE LEAVE HERE, WE’LL BE FRIENDS
#1. WORLD OF HURT by Brian Hodge – I finally got my hands on a copy of this 2006 novel from the author of NIGHTLIFE, one of my favorite horror novels ever, and it was so worth the wait. If you manage to find a copy, snatch it up ASAP.
Synopsis: Nearly half his life ago, Andrei spent 38 minutes as a corpse. It’s not a secret that he shares with many people. Especially these last six years, ever since the comforting lie of tunnels and white lights crumbled away to leave him with the memory of what he really found on the other side of death…not Hell, but something worse: a Heaven unlike anything he’d ever been taught to expect.
Now, as Heaven seeks to reclaim him, Andrei awakens to the hidden truths of this world and the next, caught between two unequal sides waging a clandestine war for the soul of the world, in which everything he’s ever taken for granted about good and evil has just been turned upside down.
When death is no escape, what do you do? Andrei has a fierce need to know, as the clock runs out on the most excruciating moral choice of his life.
And now let’s get to the books published this year…
THIS YEAR’S TOP 8 READS PUBLISHED IN 2016
#8. MONGRELS by Stephen Graham Jones – Coming-of-Age? Werewolves? Just take my money, damn it!
Synopsis: A spellbinding and darkly humorous coming-of-age story about an unusual boy, whose family lives on the fringe of society and struggles to survive in a hostile world that shuns and fears them.
He was born an outsider, like the rest of his family. Poor yet resilient, he lives in the shadows with his aunt Libby and uncle Darren, folk who stubbornly make their way in a society that does not understand or want them. They are mongrels, mixed blood, neither this nor that. The boy at the center of Mongrels must decide if he belongs on the road with his aunt and uncle, or if he fits with the people on the other side of the tracks.
For ten years, he and his family have lived a life of late-night exits and narrow escapes—always on the move across the South to stay one step ahead of the law. But the time is drawing near when Darren and Libby will finally know if their nephew is like them or not. And the close calls they’ve been running from for so long are catching up fast now. Everything is about to change.
A compelling and fascinating journey, Mongrels alternates between past and present to create an unforgettable portrait of a boy trying to understand his family and his place in a complex and unforgiving world. A smart and innovative story— funny, bloody, raw, and real—told in a rhythmic voice full of heart, Mongrels is a deeply moving, sometimes grisly, novel that illuminates the challenges and tender joys of a life beyond the ordinary in a bold and imaginative new way.
#7. WICKED WITCHES: AN ANTHOLOGY OF THE NEW ENGLAND HORROR WRITERS edited by Scott T. Goudsward, David Price and Daniel G. Keohane – The latest excellent anthology from NEHW, this bad boy came out just in time to be sold in Salem, MA at the Halloween Street Fair. As you can imagine, they were flying off the table…and deservedly so. Every story in this book is a winner.
Synopsis: New England has a rich, dark history with the supernatural. From this region many writers of dark fiction have fueled their stories. One chapter in history has been the stuff of legends and nightmares: the Witch. Look to ancient mythology or your next door neighbor and you will find them, practicing arts both Dark and Light. The New England Horror Writers proudly present a new anthology which pays tribute to those whose ancestors were accused, hung, pressed, drowned, or burned at the stake. Enter these pages, wander the hard roads of Colonial America or modern corporate boardrooms, to face the Witch.
Wicked Witches, fiction from New England’s most talented writers: G.D. Dearborn, Barry Lee Dejasu, Peter N. Dudar, Jeremy Flagg, Joshua Goudreau, Catherine Grant, Jan Kozlowski, Patrick Lacey, Izzy Lee, Nick Manzolillo, John McIlveen, Paul McMahon, James A. Moore, Errick A. Nunnally, Ogmios, Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, Doug Rinaldi, Rob Smales, Morgan Sylvia, K.H. Vaughan, Morven Westfield and Trisha J. Wooldridge
Introduction by Penny Dreadful; Cover art by Mikio Murakami
#6. IT’S A BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD WORLD by Curtis M. Lawson – Remember all those ensemble movies from the 1970s with a laundry list of B-level stars competing to win a race, or find some stolen treasure, or catch the lovable scoundrel protagonist? Well, imagine if all of them had just smoked some bath salts and they were using a script written by a collaboration between Quentin Tarantino and Sam Raimi. That’s pretty much what reading this book is like. It’s chock-full of awesomeness.
Synopsis: When the Vatican’s top assassin, a Rhodesian merc, a pair of serial killer lovers, a dirty cop, and a professional sadist compete in a mad race for a pair of priceless magical artifacts, betrayal, theft, and murder are just the opening moves in a game of death.
#5. CHILDREN OF THE DARK by Jonathan Janz – I read this book early on in 2016, and it has been a front-runner the entire time. A multi-layered coming-of-age tale (and I think it’s obvious that I love that sub-genre), multiple threats, and a surprise connection to one of Janz’s previous books that I never saw coming. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I recommended it to friends.
Will Burgess is used to hard knocks. Abandoned by his father, son of a drug-addicted mother, and charged with raising his six-year-old sister, Will has far more to worry about than most high school freshmen. To make matters worse, Mia Samuels, the girl of Will’s dreams, is dating his worst enemy, the most sadistic upperclassman at Shadeland High. Will’s troubles, however, are just beginning.
Because one of the nation’s most notorious criminals—the Moonlight Killer—has escaped from prison and is headed straight toward Will’s hometown. And something else is lurking in Savage Hollow, the forest surrounding Will’s rundown house. Something ancient and infinitely evil. When the worst storm of the decade descends on Shadeland, Will and his friends must confront unfathomable horrors. Everyone Will loves—his mother, his little sister, Mia, and his friends—will be threatened.
And very few of them will escape with their lives.
#4. HAVEN by Tom Deady – I still have a difficult time believing that this is Tom’s debut novel. If you loved the coming-of-age tales from the 1980s like SUMMER OF NIGHT by Dan Simmons or King’s IT, HAVEN is exactly what you need to read. Right now, it’s only available in limited edition hardcover, but I have good info that paperback and ebook version will be out soon.
Synopsis – In 1961, the small town of Haven thought they’d gotten rid of their monster.
After a series of child killings, Paul Greymore was caught carrying a wounded girl. His face, disfigured from a childhood accident, seemed to confirm he was the monster the community hoped to banish. With Paul in prison, the killings stopped.
For seventeen years, Haven was peaceful again. But Paul served his time and has now returned to Haven–the town where he grew up, and the scene of his alleged crimes. Paul insists he didn’t commit those crimes, and several townspeople believe him including the local priest, a young boy named Denny, and his best friend Billy.
Trouble is, now that Paul is back home, the bizarre killings have started again–and the patterns match the deaths from Haven’s past. If Paul isn’t the killer, who is?
Or WHAT is? An unlikely band of adventurers attempts to uncover the truth, delving into long-hidden tunnels that might actually be inhabited by a strange, predatory creature.
Haven is a compelling horror epic in the spirit of It or Summer of Night, and a stunning debut novel from a gifted author who knows that the darkest horrors lurk inside human beings, even when there is a monster on the loose.
#3. TIJUANA DONKEY SHOWDOWN by Adam Howe – Last year, Adam took the #1 slot on the list with his collection of novellas, DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET. and he nearly made it to the top this time with the novel-length sequel of the adventures of Reggie Levine. I, for one, hope Reggie keeps getting into trouble for many, many years to come.
Synopsis: Reggie Levine, ex-boxer turned bouncer, and hapless hero, has barely recovered from his ordeal in Damn Dirty Apes, when he is called back to action. Recruited to retrieve a Chinese crested terrier from a fleapit roadside zoo, where the ugly effing showdog has been mistaken for the chupacabra, Reggie soon finds himself embroiled in a deadly criminal conspiracy involving neo-Nazi drug smugglers, a seedy used-car salesman, a wannabe serial killer, an ornery Vietnam veteran, a badass veterinarian, a freakishly endowed adult entertainment donkey named Enrique, and in an explosive cameo, an Academy Award winning Hollywood icon.
From Adam Howe, writer of Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, Black Cat Mojo, and the winner of Stephen King’s On Writing contest, comes another hard-hitting slice of pulp Southern crime, 80s action, pop Americana, and pitch-black comedy.
#2. STRANDED by Bracken Macleod – Ships stuck in the ice have long evoked images of the ultimate isolation, and Macleod cranks it up a notch with this surreal setting. A definite contender for Novel of the Year on many lists.
Synopsis: In the spirit of John Carpenter’s The Thing and Jacob’s Ladder comes Stranded — a terrifying, icebound thriller where nothing is quite what it seems by Bracken MacLeod.
Badly battered by an apocalyptic storm, the crew of the Arctic Promise find themselves in increasingly dire circumstances as they sail blindly into unfamiliar waters and an ominously thickening fog. Without functioning navigation or communication equipment, they are lost and completely alone. One by one, the men fall prey to a mysterious illness. Deckhand Noah Cabot is the only person unaffected by the strange force plaguing the ship and her crew, which does little to ease their growing distrust of him.
Dismissing Noah’s warnings of worsening conditions, the captain of the ship presses on until the sea freezes into ice and they can go no farther. When the men are ordered overboard in an attempt to break the ship free by hand, the fog clears, revealing a faint shape in the distance that may or may not be their destination. Noah leads the last of the able-bodied crew on a journey across the ice and into an uncertain future where they must fight for their lives against the elements, the ghosts of the past and, ultimately, themselves.
#1. THE SECRET LIFE OF SOULS by Jack Ketchum & Lucky McKee – This was one of the last reads of the year for me, and I nearly waited too long for it to be on this list. Thankfully, I didn’t. It is a novel that will stick with me for years
A gripping family drama that brilliantly explores the relationship between a young girl and her dog—and the mysteries that lie within.
At the heart of this psychological suspense novel is the haunting depiction of a family’s fall and the extraordinary gifted dog, Caity, who knows the truth. As the drama unfolds Caity evolves from protector to savior, from scapegoat to prop, and eventually, from avenger to survivor. She is an unselfish soul in a selfish world—and she is written with depth and grace by authors Ketchum and Mckee, who display a profound understanding of a dog’s complex emotions. With her telling instincts and her capacity for joy and transformative love, Caity joins the pantheon of great dogs in contemporary literature.
Eleven year old actress Delia Cross is beautiful, talented, charismatic. A true a star in the making. Her days are a blur of hard work on set, auditions and tutors. Her family—driven, pill-popping stage mother Pat, wastrel dad Bart, and introverted twin brother Robbie—depends on her for their upscale lifestyle. Delia in turn depends on Caity, her beloved ginger Queensland Heeler—and loyal friend—for the calming private space they share. Delia is on the verge of a professional break through. But just as the contracts are about to be signed, there is a freak accident that puts Delia in the danger zone with only Caity to protect her.
Whew! That was a lot of work. Now I’m going to relax and start my 2017 reads