I started this review of my favourite reads last year and thought I’d keep up the tradition. Much like the year before, 2018 was a banner year for the to-be-read pile with far more four and five-star books than misses, so it was a challenge to keep this list to ten titles. I hope this will help you plan your reads for the coming year. And just like last time, the numbering is based on the order read, not ranking.
1. Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys (2017)
You’ve probably heard me talk about Winter Tide before. The novel absolutely delighted me. It’s a modern take on the Lovecraft Mythos pulling the Elder Gods out of the realm of horror and into a modern fantasy world. Emrys who is a Lovecraft scholar builds on the Mythos to create a fully formed world filled with what would have seemed terrifying to an audience a century ago, but that is awe-inspiring today. What really made this book for me was the main character, Aphra. Her compassion and intelligence was heart-warming and showed how a book doesn’t need to rely on violence to build tension and defeat villains.
2. So I Might Be a Vampire by Rodney V. Smith (2018)
The funniest book about vampires you’re likely to read. Bob is your average guy… or perhaps your below-average guy. When he wakes up one morning to find he’s become a vampire, he soon learns it doesn’t come with an instruction manual nor is it as glamorous as the movies make it out to be. His journey is weird, fumbling, relatable, and you’ll be happy to be along for the ride.
3 The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett (2016)
The Secret of Ventriloquism was the most disturbing read of the year for me. This is a collection of short stories linked by common themes and occupying a similar nightmarish space. The dream-like quality of the tales got inside my head and made me worried that they’s take hold in my subconscious, something I really didn’t want to deal with. This is a book for the true horror lovers out there. There is nothing gory or excessively violent about it, it is simply an experience in pure unease.
4. Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman (2018)
It’s no secret I’m a Malermaniac (now that Bird Box is such a phenomenon, there’s a whole lot more of us out there) and with his prolific nature, its no surprise his name is on the list for the second year in a row. Unbury Carol is a strange supernatural-fairytale-western and goes to prove that Malerman is his own genre. He’s also a master, which the first chapter demonstrates, laying out the key points of the entire novel in a few pages. With its memorable characters and gripping plot, it will make you a Malermaniac too.
5. The Changeling by Victor LaValle (2017)
This is a real powerhouse of a novel. It strikes hard at the fears of parenthood and draws from horror’s roots in fairytales, with the added punch of social media anxiety. Apollo and Emma are new parents but when Emma becomes convinced their son is not their own things go bad fast. Terrifying but ultimately redemptive, this novel will take you to the extremes.
6. The Elementals by Michael McDowell (1981)
The Elementals is the first classic horror novel on this list. I read McDowell’s Toplin way back in the day but unfortunately never explored more of his works. Thanks to Valencourt Books for reprinting a whole line of 1980’s greats including this one, so I can remedy that error. The novel wonderfully captures the long, languid days of idleness during a hot summer. One part Southern gothic, one part ghost story, it would be the perfect beach read, except it will make you afraid of sand.
7. The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay (2018)
This is my essential book for 2018. The Cabin at the End of the World perfectly captures the anxieties of the day with an unflinching gaze. A home invasion story like you’ve never seen before. At its core, it asks the question how do go on when the world is ending, or when it seems like it is ending. Every character is remarkably human making even the villains impossible not to relate to. A total gut punch that everyone needs to feel.
8. The Cipher by Kathe Koja (1991)
The list’s second classic. In Koja’s novel, two slacker artists discover a mysterious black hole in a storage closet. Things do not go well. The Cipher is an intense meditation on the nature of faith, obsession, and love. Instead of clear answers, it invites readers to find their own. It’s the antecedent to many works including House of Leaves and is a solid piece of the horror canon.
9. The Bone Mother by David Demchuk (2017)
This book blindsided me. I’d read the good reviews and heard the superlatives used to describe it, but it still caught me off guard and completely awed me. Much like The Secret of Ventriloquism, it is a series of stories of similar themes and taking place within a unified world. These stories mostly take the form of eastern European fairytales and each is accompanied by real photos of people from the area. At turns, uneasy and wonderous, an absolute masterpiece.
10. The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor (2018)
The final book I completed last year, The Chalk Man ended things with a bang. It’s a mystery drawing strongly on memory and nostalgia. Back in 1986, a group of friends had a strange and terrifying summer. Now in the present day, those events begin to resurface. This is an engrossing mystery filled with as many twists and turns as a carnival ride. The last shock at the end blew me away and revealed the true face of horror. An amazing debut novel.