Continuing the tradition of the last two years, with my Top 13 Reads of 2015 and Top 16 reads of 2016 , here’s another list of the best books I read last year. Same rules as before. I have to choose from books that I read in 2017, and they cannot be titles from Bloodshot Books.
This year, even though I read more than in 2016, much of it was for our Open Call, so I had less time for pleasure reading. Even so, I was still able to read some great novels, and with 2017 being such a depressing year for most people, escaping into a good book was necessary.
As before, I’ve split this list into books published in 2017 and books published earlier. Many of the current titles should be shortlisted for awards and the others should immediately go to your TBR pile. So, let’s get to it!
TOP 7 READS PUBLISHED BEFORE 2017
7) CRITICAL FAILURES by Robert Bevan – If you are one of the many individuals who grew up rolling 20-sided dice in your friend’s basement, imagine what would have happened if you got sucked into the fantasy world of the game and you had to deal with recent ridiculous exploits of your “less serious” party members. Bevan’s first book in a long series of satirically interconnected novels and short stories will have you longing for those days again.
Synopsis: What if you and your friends got to live the game for real? What if you and your friends were assholes?
After relentlessly mocking their strange new Game Master, Tim and his friends find themselves trapped in the bodies of their fantasy game characters, in a world where the swords, the magic, and the gastrointestinal issues are all too real.
They learn hard lessons about tolerance and teamwork, and a new meaning for the term “dump stat”. Ha ha. Just kidding. They don’t learn shit.
Never before have comedy and fantasy come together so much like a train wreck, in which each train was carrying a shipment of burning dumpsters. You just can’t help but continue to stare.
Don’t be the last of your circle of nerds to read this book. Shake the Dorito crumbs out of your neck beard, grab your large sack, and prepare to enter the world of Caverns & Creatures.
6) THE CHILDREN’S HOUR by Douglas Clegg – Clegg was one of those authors who I had always heard of but never gotten around to reading, even though I picked up copies of nearly all his titles over the years. Finally, I grabbed this one off of my infinite TBR pile and plunged into his “vampire novel” of a different sort. I will certainly be reading more of his stuff in 2018.
Synopsis: Who’s coming for you in the dead of night? Don’t be afraid. It’s only the children…
They only come out after dark. And they only want to find their old friends, the ones who abandoned them. The ones who left them to die…When Joe Gardner returns with his wife and kids to the peaceful mountain town of Colony, West Virginia, he doesn’t expect to find the girl who disappeared when he was a boy. But she remembers Joe. And she has plans for him. A supernatural horror thriller from the NY Times bestselling author of Nightmare House & The Hour Before Dark.
5) DUMA KEY by Stephen King – This was one of the few King novels that I had never read, and it’s probably one of his most underappreciated. It is a bit bulky, but if you love a big fat beach read (where I read it this summer), this will forever change the way you think about the sound of waves crashing on the sand.
Synopsis: No more than a dark pencil line on a blank page. A horizon line, maybe. But also a slot for blackness to pour through…
A terrible construction site accident takes Edgar Freemantle’s right arm and scrambles his memory and his mind, leaving him with little but rage as he begins the ordeal of rehabilitation. A marriage that produced two lovely daughters suddenly ends, and Edgar begins to wish he hadn’t survived the injuries that could have killed him. He wants out. His psychologist, Dr. Kamen, suggests a “geographic cure,” a new life distant from the Twin Cities and the building business Edgar grew from scratch. And Kamen suggests something else.
“Edgar, does anything make you happy?”
“I used to sketch.”
“Take it up again. You need hedges…hedges against the night.”
Edgar leaves Minnesota for a rented house on Duma Key, a stunningly beautiful, eerily undeveloped splinter of the Florida coast. The sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico and the tidal rattling of shells on the beach call out to him, and Edgar draws. A visit from Ilse, the daughter he dotes on, starts his movement out of solitude. He meets a kindred spirit in Wireman, a man reluctant to reveal his own wounds, and then Elizabeth Eastlake, a sick old woman whose roots are tangled deep in Duma Key. Now Edgar paints, sometimes feverishly, his exploding talent both a wonder and a weapon. Many of his paintings have a power that cannot be controlled. When Elizabeth’s past unfolds and the ghosts of her childhood begin to appear, the damage of which they are capable is truly devastating.
4) WE ARE LEGION by Dennis Taylor – I can’t remember where I heard of this series, but boy am I glad I found it. Dennis Taylor first serialized his Bobverse on his website and through word of mouth, it became so popular that he finally put it out in paperback. This is old school scifi with a dash of humor and nostalgia, perfect for fans of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War or classic Heinlein novels.
Synopsis: Bob Johansson has just sold his software company and is looking forward to a life of leisure. There are places to go, books to read, and movies to watch. So it’s a little unfair when he gets himself killed crossing the street.
Bob wakes up a century later to find that corpsicles have been declared to be without rights, and he is now the property of the state. He has been uploaded into computer hardware and is slated to be the controlling AI in an interstellar probe looking for habitable planets. The stakes are high: no less than the first claim to entire worlds. If he declines the honor, he’ll be switched off, and they’ll try again with someone else. If he accepts, he becomes a prime target. There are at least three other countries trying to get their own probes launched first, and they play dirty. The safest place for Bob is in space, heading away from Earth at top speed. Or so he thinks. Because the universe is full of nasties, and trespassers make them mad — very mad.
3) CAGE OF NIGHT by Ed Gorman – Fellow author James Newman recommended this early in 2017, and I was compelled to seek out a copy and read it. Boy, am I glad I did so. I must have been living in a hole, because this is one of the best, most tightly-written supernatural novels I’ve ever read. Now I need to track down the rest of Gorman’s catalog.
Synopsis: Twenty-one-year-old Spence returns to his home after two years in the Army. He falls in love with Cindy Brasher, Homecoming Queen and small town goddess to a long line of jealous young men.
But string of robberies puts Spence at odds with his obsessive love for Cindy. One by all of Spence’s rivals are implicated in horrific crimes.
Spence begins to wonder how much Cindy knows about these events, and why she wants him, like all her past boyfriends, to visit the old well in the woods…
2) A FINE DARK LINE by Joe R. Lansdale – A lesser-known stand-alone Lansdale novel, this should receive much more attention. In my opinion, noone writes authentic dialogue and setting better.
Synopsis: During a sweltering East Texas summer, 13-year-old Stanley Mitchel Jr. begins a journey of awakening. His family runs the town’s drive-in movie theater, where Stanley spends his time helping out, reading ten-cent comics, playing with his dog Nub and generally living a boy’s life, circa 1958. When Stanley discovers a cache of old love-letters and starts to unravel a local mystery, however, he finds himself confronting secrets of ghosts, women, sex, race and his own courage. As he tells it, “I felt as if something living inside of me had been stolen, taken away and mistreated, then returned without all of its legs.” Ultimately, it’s a story about taking a clear-eyed look behind the veil and acknowledging the truth of things, without succumbing to them.
1) LOVECRAFT COUNTRY by Matt Ruff – Lovecraftian horror during the Civil Right era. I love me some horror in historical settings, and I’m obviously not the only one, since Jordan Peele of Get Out and Key & Peele has signed a deal to bring this wonderful novel to the screen. Plus, it has one of the best covers of the year… especially if you buy it in the hardcover version which, rather than having a slipcase, resembles the old library format with the art printed directly on the cover.
Synopsis: Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, 22-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.
At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.
A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of two black families, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.
TOP 10 READS PUBLISHED IN 2017
10) CHALK by Paul Cornell – A surreal coming-of-age chiller that begins with a horrific crime, this novel unsettled me more than any other book this year. It’s a must-read.
Synopsis: Andrew Waggoner has always hung around with his fellow losers at school, desperately hoping each day that the school bullies — led by Drake — will pass him by in search of other prey. But one day they force him into the woods, and the bullying escalates into something more; something unforgivable; something unthinkable.
Broken, both physically and emotionally, something dies in Waggoner, and something else is born in its place.
In the hills of the West Country a chalk horse stands vigil over a site of ancient power, and there Waggoner finds in himself a reflection of rage and vengeance, a power and persona to topple those who would bring him low.
9) SLEEPING BEAUTIES by Stephen King & Owen King – Noone does epic horror like Stephen King, and now we can add Owen King to the family tradition. Next up, a collaboration of brothers? Take my money, please.
Synopsis: In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep: they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent. And while they sleep they go to another place, a better place, where harmony prevails and conflict is rare.
One woman, the mysterious “Eve Black,” is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Eve a medical anomaly to be studied? Or is she a demon who must be slain? Abandoned, left to their increasingly primal urges, the men divide into warring factions, some wanting to kill Eve, some to save her. Others exploit the chaos to wreak their own vengeance on new enemies. All turn to violence in a suddenly all-male world.
Set in a small Appalachian town whose primary employer is a women’s prison, Sleeping Beauties is a wildly provocative, gloriously dramatic father-son collaboration that feels particularly urgent and relevant today.
8) MONSTROSITY by Tim Curran – If you love horror and you haven’t read Tim Curran yet, you are seriously missing out. I first discovered Tim in 2010 when I read the 666 page limited hardcover edition of his zombie epic Resurrection and he’s been on my “must read” list ever since. His Lumley-esque ability for vivid, grotesque description is, frankly, what I aspire for in my own writing. Monstrosity is his riff on the classic 1970s horror flick Food of the Gods. Only he has amped the effects up exponentially. Fans of big-ass freaky monsters need to dive into this book.
Synopsis: The Food. It seeped from the ground, a living, gushing, teratogenic nightmare. It contaminated anything that ate it, causing nature to run wild with horrible mutations, creating massive monstrosities that roam the land destroying towns and cities, feeding on livestock and human beings and one another. Now Frank Bowman, an ordinary farmer with no military skills, must get his children to safety. And that will mean a trip through the contaminated zone of monsters, madmen, and The Food itself. Only a fool would attempt it. Or a man with a mission.
7) COME TO DUST by Bracken MacLeod – For the 2nd straight year, a Bracken MacLeod novel appears on my end-of-the-year list, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it won’t be the last time.
Synopsis: Ever since her mother abandoned her, five-year-old Sophie has had to depend on her uncle Mitch for everything. Though their life is difficult, he works hard to keep their family together, despite the obstacles in their way. But just when everything seems to be looking up for them, it all comes crashing down when Sophie dies tragically. Mitch descends into a crippling grief, not knowing how to continue on without her.
When scores of children around the world begin to inexplicably rise from the dead—Sophie among them—everything becomes much harder.
Mitch rescues her from the morgue, determined to carve out a normal life for them no matter what, though it soon becomes clear that may not be possible. While the kids who’ve returned behave like living children, they still look very dead. And they can do something else that normal children cannot. Something terrifying. While debate rages over whether the children’s return is a mercy or a sign of approaching judgment, a congregation of religious fanatics determined to usher in the apocalypse has its own plan for salvation.
Now Mitch must find a way to save Sophie from an increasingly hostile world that wants to tear them apart and put her back in the ground for good.
6) MONSTRUMFUHRER by Edward M. Erdelac – In 2015, he took us to the infamous Civil War internment camp Andersonville and populated it with the undead. Now, Erdelac transports us to World War II to meet Frankenstein’s Monster. His name is fast becoming synonymous with historical horror. Here’s hoping he re-releases his Merkabah Rider series soon.
Synopsis: In 1936, Dr. Josef Mengele discovers Victor Frankenstein’s lab journal in the attic of an Ingolstadt dormitory and is tasked by the Reich Institute with replicating his reanimation procedure.
While hiding in a bookstore in Warsaw, a pair of Jewish twin brothers, Jotham and Eli Podczaski, come across the letters of Captain Walton to his sister, detailing the ill-fated story of Frankenstein.
When Jotham and Eli are captured by the Gestapo and encounter Mengele in the gray confines of Auschwitz KZ, they alone recognize the origin of his bizarre, sadistic experiments. Jotham hatches a plan to escape the camp and travel north, to find the only being capable of stopping Mengele from providing the Third Reich with a new race of undying stormtroopers; the only being on earth who will believe them … Frankenstein’s original creature.
5) A GOD IN THE SHED by J-F Dubeau – This was actually my final read of 2017, and I wish I had found it sooner. With his 2nd novel, Canadian author J-F. Dubeau takes one of the most common horror tropes (small town with a history of deaths fighting an ancient evil) and turns it on its head. This one is a contender for Novel of the Year and I’m sure we’ll see it on many Top reads lists soon.
Synopsis: The village of Saint-Ferdinand has all the trappings of a quiet life: farmhouses stretching from one main street, a small police precinct, a few diners and cafés, and a grocery store. Though if an out-of-towner stopped in, they would notice one unusual thing―a cemetery far too large and much too full for such a small town, lined with the victims of the Saint-Ferdinand Killer, who has eluded police for nearly two decades. It’s not until after Inspector Stephen Crowley finally catches the killer that the town discovers even darker forces are at play.
When a dark spirit reveals itself to Venus McKenzie, one of Saint-Ferdinand’s teenage residents, she learns that this creature’s power has a long history with her town―and that the serial murders merely scratch the surface of a past burdened by evil secrets.
4) PAPERBACKS FROM HELL by Grady Hendrix – The only non-fiction book in this list needs to be on the shelves of every horror fiction fan in existence. It’s that good. Hendrix obviously grew up with a love of these lurid covers as many of the rest of us did. Here’s hoping there are multiple subsequent volumes in the future. The well of cheesy cover has only barely been tapped.
Synopsis: Take a tour through the horror paperback novels of two iconic decades . . . if you dare. Page through dozens and dozens of amazing book covers featuring well-dressed skeletons, evil dolls, and knife-wielding killer crabs! Read shocking plot summaries that invoke devil worship, satanic children, and haunted real estate! Horror author and vintage paperback book collector Grady Hendrix offers killer commentary and witty insight on these trashy thrillers that tried so hard to be the next Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby. Complete with story summaries and artist and author profiles, this unforgettable volume dishes on familiar authors like V. C. Andrews and R. L. Stine, plus many more who’ve faded into obscurity. Also included are recommendations for which of these forgotten treasures are well worth your reading time and which should stay buried.
3) WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST READ? by David Wong – Few things amuse me more than a book by David Wong. It’s the perfect mixture of potty humor and apocalyptic mind-bending horror. This is the third in the John Dies at the End series, and I, for one, hope to see many more advantures for them in the future.
Synopsis: It’s the story “They” don’t want you to read. Though, to be fair, “They” are probably right about this one. To quote the Bible, “Learning the truth can be like loosening a necktie, only to realize it was the only thing keeping your head attached.” No, don’t put the book back on the shelf — it is now your duty to purchase it to prevent others from reading it. Yes, it works with e-books, too, I don’t have time to explain how.
While investigating a fairly straightforward case of a shape-shifting interdimensional child predator, Dave, John and Amy realized there might actually be something weird going on. Together, they navigate a diabolically convoluted maze of illusions, lies, and their own incompetence in an attempt to uncover a terrible truth they — like you — would be better off not knowing.
Your first impulse will be to think that a story this gruesome — and, to be frank, stupid — cannot possibly be true. That is precisely the reaction “They” are hoping for.
2) BONE WHITE by Ronald Malfi – It’s no surprise that Malfi’s latest makes an appearance on this list. His last few novels have been getting progressively better and better and in Bone White, the frozen setting of Alaska is a palpable menace on every page. Every one of his releases is an “auto-buy” for me. If you haven’t discovered him yet, you must be living in a cave.
Synopsis: A landscape of frozen darkness punctuated by grim, gray days.
The feeling like a buzz in your teeth.
The scrape of bone on bone. . .
Paul Gallo saw the report on the news: a mass murderer leading police to his victims’ graves, in remote Dread’s Hand, Alaska.
It’s not even a town; more like the bad memory of a town. The same bit of wilderness where his twin brother went missing a year ago. As the bodies are exhumed, Paul travels to Alaska to get closure and put his grief to rest.
But the mystery is only beginning. What Paul finds are superstitious locals who talk of the devil stealing souls, and a line of wooden crosses to keep what’s in the woods from coming out. He finds no closure because no one can explain exactly what happened to Danny.
And the more he searches for answers, the more he finds himself becoming part of the mystery. . .
1) THE FORGOTTEN GIRL by Rio Youers – I have been following Rio Youers for a while, ever since his phantasmically heart-wrenching novel Westlake Soul, and I’ve been ecstatic that he is getting more attention. Mark my words. His next book, Halcyon, comes out in July and it will be on everyone’s must-read list by the end of the year.
Synopsis: A dark mystery unfolds in Rio Youers’s riveting thriller, The Forgotten Girl.
Harvey Anderson is a twenty-six-year-old street performer from New Jersey. He enjoys his peaceful life, but everything turns upside down when he is abducted and beaten by a group of nondescript thugs. Working for a sinister man known as “the spider,” these goons have spent nine years searching for Harvey’s girlfriend, Sally Starling. Now they think they know where she lives. And whom she loves.
There’s only one problem: Sally is gone and Harvey has no memory of her. Which makes no sense to him, until the spider explains that Sally has the unique ability to selectively erase a person’s memories―an ability she has used to delete herself from Harvey’s mind.
But emotion runs deeper than memory, and Harvey realizes he still feels something for Sally. And so―with the spider threatening―he goes looking for a girl he loves but can’t remember . . . and encounters a danger that reaches beyond anything he could ever imagine.
Political corruption and manipulation. A serial killer’s dark secrets. An appetite for absolute, terrible power. For Harvey Anderson, finding the forgotten girl comes at quite a cost.