Well, it’s time once again to pick my favourite books of the year. For the first time, I’m releasing the list through my newsletter before releasing it on the blog.
At the beginning of 2019, I set the ambitious reading goal of forty-four books, but it seems my speed has picked up a bit and with the addition of listening to audiobooks on my commute, I was able to exceed that number with a whopping fifty-four books read. And that’s just what was tracked on Goodreads, which doesn’t include books on Wattpad or the numerous fiction magazines I subscribe to. With all this material, it was a challenge to pick only ten, so I decided to exclude authors who have appeared in past years’ lists and try to give preference for books published in 2019 whenever possible. This excluded some amazing books, but I think you’ll find the ones that made the list are equally amazing. As always, this is in the order read and does not indicate ranking.
The list starts off with a true classic of the horror genre. This was my first Straub novel and all I can think is what on Earth took me so long. From the beginning, I knew this was something special. The title is a bit of a misnomer as the Big Bad isn’t exactly a ghost, but the book manages to invoke a truly haunting atmosphere as a small New England town is buried in a never-ending snowstorm and sinister creatures stalk the streets. I will warn readers that there are a few racially and sexually problematic passages, which mar an otherwise stellar story.
2. The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyne Kiste (2018)
Go out and buy this book now. I don’t care what genres you like or what type of writing you prefer, you will love this book. It walks the razor edge between dark fantasy and modern fairy-tale and manages to pack a massive, elegant punch with it’s social commentary. The story follows a group of teenage girls in a dying factory town who transform into monstrous beings of industrial waste. The true horror here is the way the town reacts to the girls’ tragedy. It’s simply astounding that this is Kiste’s first novel. By all rights, something of this caliber should only be produced by a veteran of the craft.
3. Come Closer by Sara Gran (2006)
This book makes a lot of best horror lists for good reason. In the brief pages of this novella, Sara Gran gives us an intimate look at demon possession. Told from the point of view of a woman with an unwelcome guest, we follow her as she succumbs to its seductions. Her behaviour slowly grows more wild and dangerous, but often seems like liberation and the acceptance of repressed desires, until things go way too far.
4. The Murders of Molly Southbourne (2017) and The Survival of Molly Southbourbe (2019) by Tade Thompson
Okay, this is a bit of a cheat allowing me to put eleven books on the list, but I did read both parts of this series this year and both deserve your attention. For the first three-quarters of Murders I had no clue what was happening and was absolutely delighted by it. The ending managed to put things into focus without diminishing my love for the wild ride Thompson had me on. Survival has a bit less of a WTF mood but stands up remarkably well after the masterful first book. These novellas encompass one of the most original ideas I’ve seen in a long time.
If you’ve read any Grady Hendrix before, you probably know he writes horror that is drenched in both nostalgia and humour. We Sold Our Souls is no different. It’s a unique take on the deal-with-the-devil trope that delves into every aspect of heavy-metal imagery from the dark to the camp. What really sold me on this novel was its peddle-to-the-metal approach (no pun intended). Things take off and never slows down. This is as much fun as your favourite concept album.
This collection of short stories made the writer in me green with envy. Hodge tells stories the way I wish I could tell stories. The tales are often told exceedingly simply but with finesse and emotional depth. It’s impossible for me to pick a favourite in this bunch, and it made me run out and buy the companion novel, The Immaculate Void, because I needed more.
For whatever reason, serial killer novels are a hard sell for me. Equally so, vampire novels (although there are many of both types I’ve enjoyed). This book promises a bit of both, and I contently hesitated to pick it up despite the glowing reviews it received. Happily, Davidson wonderfully subverted my expectations. Another debut novel, it reads like the product of an old-pro who knows all the ins and outs of the tropes as well as the subtleties of language. Powerful and beautiful, it’s a must. And I’ll be pre-ordering his second book The Boatman’s Daughter to get it when it’s released on February 11th.
With Horns, I believe I’ve read every full-length novel Joe Hill has written, and it stands out as my favourite. A story about the darkness in all of us, it is an audacious and daring narrative. It has one of hands-down best reveals I’ve ever read: a key bit of info dropped early on that completely colours what comes afterwards, turning innocent remembrances sinister. And it is one of those amazing books that shows how broad and deep horror can be.
This novel packs in so many of the things I love (noir, cosmic horror, haunted cinema, and circus horror) had Ed Kurtz failed to pull it off, I would have been crushed. But he pulls it off with aplomb. This delves into both visceral and cerebral regions of terror. It also has my most loved main character of the year.
If Brian Hodge’s collection filled me with envy, Kiernan’s fills me with awe. There simply can be no jealousy when you can’t even imagine shooting for the dizzying heights she achieves. These stories are deeply human, mind-blowingly smart, and beautifully written. This assortment of fiction deserves to be on the syllabi of university courses and your reading list.
For more suggestions take a look at my recommendation lists on Goodreads.
*Both Skidding Into Oblivion and The Rib from Which I Remake the World were published by Chizine Publications. The company was the subject of a number of controversies in 2019 and as good as these books are, it may be best to wait until they are released by another publisher before picking them up because it is in no means certain that Chizine will be around long enough to pay the author’s on any new purchases.