Also by this author: , That Which Should Not Be, , , , , , We Are All Completely Fine, , , , , , , Seeing Evil, , , , , , , , Deadlock, , , , , ,
With the end of 2014 only a matter of hours away, it’s a very appropriate time to look back over the titles I perused through the last 364-odd days and pick from them the ten very best. Novels, novellas, graphic novels or collections that really did grab me, or better yet, managed to knock a sock off or two. In essence, I’ll be counting them down from ten to one, saving the very best for last, with the only requirement for the list being I had to have read it between Jan 1st and Dec 31st, 2014, rather than the book being published in 2014.
So limber up, get ready to copy and paste, and be prepared to add to your TBR pile, because everything on this list deserves to be read – even if that’s just to find issue with how much I liked something or, even better, to start a lively debate on the merits of one title or another’s inclusion.
10. Mountain Home by Bracken McLeod
A powerful and relentless read about a group of people trapped in a roadside diner by a sniper who is picking them off one by one, this novella is especially remarkable as it’s the debut from author Bracken McLeod. This one not only manages to make the sniper sympathetic, but it is largely unpredictable and displays genuine character growth from the main protagonist. It’s probably more thriller than horror, but it makes the list because it really is that good.
9. That Which Should Not Be by Brett J Talley
Probably my author find of the year, Mr Talley would have graced this list twice if it was open to books beyond horror as (his tale The Reborn within Journalstone’s Double Down series is simply incredible). This debut from him is an incredible homage to the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, skillfully weaving the spoken tales of several travelers at a roadside tavern into something akin to a Tales From the Crypt type anthology. Each is suitably different for them all to remain compelling, and a couple provided actual chills – something that is a real rarity for me. Nominated for about seven bazillion awards, you’ve likely heard of this by now, but if you’ve hesitated in giving it a try, pause no longer.
8. The Passage by Justin Cronin
Likely the most mainstream of reads on this list, the hype around this one is completely earned. Written with the grace and skill of a literary giant, The Passage is part dystopian apocalyptic thriller, part dark fantasy, and part horror, but somehow manages to draw these genres together into something utterly fascinating. Don’t let the ludicrous page count deter you, Cronin’s literary ode to his daughter is worth every minute you’ll invest in it.
7. The Infection by Craig DiLouie
This one is your typical zombie apocalypse on steroids and made me an instant DiLouie fan. Combining your typical fast infected/zombies with creatures Lovecraft would be proud of, DiLouie ratchets up the tension several notches beyond the norm. He also isn’t afraid to kill off major characters – who are mostly well developed and interact interestingly – so the reader is never certain who will make it through the final pages of the book. An excellent, gripping read.
6. The Last Mile by Tim Waggoner
I said in my original review that The Last Mile comes from a rich and deeply troubled mind. And I stand by that assessment, particularly because it’s what makes this one so great. Bleak, nihilistic, and all the better for it, this novella depicts a post-apocalyptic landscape unlike anything I’ve ever read before. My only complaint was that it finished way too quickly.
5. Bad Apples: Five Slices of Halloween Horror by Edward Lorn, Jason Parent, Evans Light, Adam Light and Gregor Xane
Five short stories set on or about Halloween shouldn’t have been a hit with someone who lives in a country that does not celebrate such a holiday. And yet this was an absolute blast! Each of the listed authors is sickeningly talented and all produce something stellar for this fantastic set of stories. My personal favourite was Easy Pickings by Jason Parent, but you could have a blast arguing about the best story of this bunch with other horror-reading friends.
4. Exponential by Adam Cesare
Featuring one of the best and most imaginative creatures I’ve ever come across in horror fiction, Adam Cesare’s fantastic novella depicts the efforts of a disparate group of characters to live through a siege of a roadside tavern by said creature. This is survival horror at its finest and caused me to rush out and pick up half of Cesare’s back catalogue on this basis of this one alone. Gory, gross and flat out fun, Exponential is sure to thrill horror fans who don’t mind a little hardcore in their horror.
3. The Nightmare Girl by Jonathan Janz
Technically, this one isn’t out yet, so it might be a bit of a cheat to include it, but it fits my criteria stated above and when a novel is this good, it should be praised all over the interwebs. Essentially, The Nightmare Girl is a novel with two settings: slow burn and bat-shit crazy. The slow burn is excellent, ratcheting the tension nicely, so that when the crazy starts, it becomes one hell of a ride that is all but impossible to put aside. The carnage Janz describes almost coats the reader with residue splatter, such is its graphic intensity and sheer relentlessness. This guy is seriously talented, and everything I’ve read by him has been good. The Nightmare Girl, however, is the best of an excellent bunch.
2. Blackout by Tim Curran
Clocking in at a short 95 pages, Blackout is just about the perfect horror novella. It opens quickly, builds a sense of the world in which it is set, and then proceeds to take savage joy in utterly destroying that world in truly incredible and imaginative ways. Curran spends a little time building a creeping sense of dread, before he sets an array of horrors onto his cast of just developed-enough characters in increasingly grotesque and gore-soaked fashion. Believe me when I say tentacles falling from the sky – as described in the blurb – barely scratches the surface of what Curran has in store for his readers here. This is visceral horror at its finest and cannot come with any higher recommendation from this reviewer.
1. We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory
What happens to the survivors of the horror books we read and films we watch? Do the characters swan off happily into the sunset? Or, more realistically, are their lives forever altered as they live with a myriad of psychologically diagnosable illnesses, foremost among them Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Author Daryl Gregory takes this idea, runs with it a little and then knocks it out of the park by making each member of a therapy group for survivors of such horrors – as well as their therapist – compelling characters whom the reader wants to know more about. He then dolls out the information sparingly, dragging the reader deeper and deeper into an incredible world in which horrors beyond imagining are trying to make their way into that world, Lovecraft-style. The twists and turns of the narrative only add to the hypnotic effect of this short novel, so that 190-odd pages felt like 50. His plotting, characterisations, and yes, the writing itself, is all that good. In short, this one completely blew me away and is worth every penny of its slightly inflated ebook price on Amazon.
So, there it is for another year. What do you think? Did I acknowledge your favourite? Or have I overlooked something and you need to set me straight? Let me know in the comments section either way… Otherwise here’s to another excellent year of reading in 2015!
Happy New Year from all of us here at HAD!
About Adam Cesare
Adam Cesare is a New Yorker who lives in Philadelphia.
His books include Mercy House, Video Night, The Summer Job, and Tribesmen. His work has been praised by Fangoria, Rue Morgue, Publishers Weekly, Bloody Disgusting, and more. His titles have appeared on “Year’s Best” lists from outlets like Complex and FearNet. He writes a monthly column for Cemetery Dance Online.
About Brett J Talley
A native of the South, Brett Talley received a philosophy and history degree from the University of Alabama before moving to witch-haunted Massachusetts to attend Harvard Law School. When people ask, Brett tells them he writes for fortune and glory. But the truth is the stories in his head simply refuse to stay put. Brett loves every kind of fiction—from horror to literary to historical to sci-fi—as long as there are fantastic characters with a compelling purpose. There’s still magic to be found in fiction, the mysterious and the unknown still beckon there, and the light can always triumph over the darkness, no matter how black the night may be.
Brett writes when he can, though he spends most of his time working as a lawyer so that he can put food on the table. That is, until the air grows cool and crisp and fall descends. For then it is football time in the South, and Brett lives and dies with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Roll Tide.
About Daryl Gregory
Award-winning author of Pandemonium, The Devil’s Alphabet, and Raising Stony Mayhall.
He is also the writer of comics such as Dracula: The Company of Monsters and Planet of the Apes, both from BOOM! Studios.
His first collection of short stories is Unpossible and Other Stories, by Fairwood Press (October, 2011).
Daryl lives in State College, Pennsylvania.
About Edward Lorn
Edward Lorn is an American horror author presently residing in the southeast United States. He enjoys storytelling, reading, and writing biographies in the third person.
Once upon a time, during a session of show and tell, a seven-year-old Edward Lorn shared with his class that his baby brother had died over the weekend. His classmates, the teacher included, wept while he recounted the painful tragedy of having lost a sibling. Edward went home that day and found an irate mother waiting for him. Edward’s teacher had called to express her condolences. This was unfortunate, as Edward had never had a baby brother.
With advice given to her by a frustrated teacher, Edward’s mother made him start writing all of his lies down. The rest, as they say, is history.
Edward Lorn and his wife are raising two children, along with a handful of outside cats and a beagle named Dot. He remains a liar to this day. The only difference is, now he’s a useful one.
About Gregor Xane
Gregor Xane writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories in Ohio. His dog is usually napping nearby.
About Jason Parent
In his head, Jason Parent lives in many places, but in the real world, he calls New England his home. The region offers an abundance of settings for his writing and many wonderful places in which to write them. He currently resides in Southeastern Massachusetts with his cuddly corgi named Calypso.
In a prior life, Jason spent most of his time in front of a judge . . . as a civil litigator. When he finally tired of Latin phrases no one knew how to pronounce and explaining to people that real lawsuits are not started, tried and finalized within the 60-minute timeframe they see on TV (it’s harassing the witness; no one throws vicious woodland creatures at them), he traded in his cheap suits for flip flops and designer stubble. The flops got repossessed the next day, and he’s back in the legal field . . . sorta. But that’s another story.
When he’s not working, Jason likes to kayak, catch a movie, travel any place that will let him enter, and play just about any sport (except that ball tied to the pole thing where you basically just whack the ball until it twists in a knot or takes somebody’s head off – he misses the appeal). And read and write, of course. He does that too sometimes.
Please visit the author on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJasonParent?ref=hl, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AuthorJasParent, or at his website, http://authorjasonparent.com/, for information regarding upcoming events or releases, or if you have any questions or comments for him.
About Jonathan Janz
Jonathan Janz grew up between a dark forest and a graveyard, which explains everything. Brian Keene named his debut novel The Sorrows “the best horror novel of 2012.” The Library Journal deemed his follow-up, House of Skin, “reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.”
2013 saw the publication of his novel of vampirism and demonic possession The Darkest Lullaby, as well as his serialized horror novel Savage Species. Of Savage Species Publishers Weekly said, “Fans of old-school splatterpunk horror–Janz cites Richard Laymon as an influence, and it shows–will find much to relish.” Jonathan’s Kindle Worlds novel Bloodshot: Kingdom of Shadows marked his first foray into the superhero/action genre.
His primary interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children, and though he realizes that every author’s wife and children are wonderful and amazing, in this case the cliché happens to be true. You can learn more about Jonathan at www.jonathanjanz.com. You can also find him on Facebook, via @jonathanjanz on Twitter, on Instagram (jonathanjanz) or on his Goodreads and Amazon author pages.
About Tim Curran
Tim Curran hails from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He is the author of the novels Skin Medicine, Hive, Dead Sea, Resurrection, Hag Night, The Devil Next Door, Long Black Coffin, Graveworm, and Biohazard. His short stories have been collected in Bone Marrow Stew and Zombie Pulp. His novellas include Fear Me, The Underdwelling, The Corpse King, Puppet Graveyard, Sow, and Worm. His short stories have appeared in such magazines as City Slab, Flesh&Blood, Book of Dark Wisdom, and Inhuman, as well as anthologies such as Flesh Feast, Shivers IV, High Seas Cthulhu, and Vile Things.
About Tim Waggoner
Tim Waggoner wrote his first story at the age of five, when he created a comic book version of King Kong vs. Godzilla on a stenographer’s pad. It took him a few more years until he began selling professionally, though. Overall, he has published close to thirty novels and three short story collections, and his articles on writing have appeared in Writer’s Digest and Writers’ Journal, among other publications. He teaches creative writing at Sinclair Community College and in Seton Hill University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program. He hopes to continue writing and teaching until he keels over dead, after which he wants to be stuffed and mounted, and then placed in front of his computer terminal.
A long time lover of horror fiction and film and "for fun" writer of the same, I enjoy reviewing what I consume, forever seeking the next high that comes with discovering the next great read.
I have reviewed 81 books so far this year.