Averaging over 220 books/novellas/anthologies a year, I usually go with a top twenty list and a separate top five collections/anthologies. Here are my personal favorites from this year’s reading. *Note: these were not all published in 2017, just the ones I read in 2017.*
1. SUBHUMAN, Michael McBride: Looking back over my lists, I think Michael McBride has kept the number one spot for as long as I’ve been doing these. That’s no coincidence if you’ve read any of his novels/novellas. This man can write ANYTHING with the perfect amount of research, characterization, and atmosphere in each story that make it feel as though you’re “living” the saga while reading it. Another of his is on my “honorable mention’s” list, as it is currently unavailable, except through third party sellers.
2. A LIFE REMOVED, Jason Parent: This novel captured my attention for the incredible depth of the characters, who felt like REAL people with honest problems, right from the start. ,Additionally all of the twists and turns throughout, made this one nearly impossible to “predict” at any point.
3. BLISTER, Jeff Strand: If there is an author out there who can infuse true horror and dark humor together as well as Jeff Strand can, I have yet to come across him/her. While the tale at heart is horrible, the characters’ personalities, and the comedic quips throughout made this book–one of the first I read in 2017–stand out even now. One I can definitely see myself re-reading in the future.
4. HEX, Thomas Olde Heuvelt: Wow–where to start with this one? A combination of old and new horrors in this particularly original story. I can STILL vividly remember certain scenes here, and I honestly can’t remember coming across something so profoundly different–style wise— in quite some time!
5. FOREST OF SHADOWS, Hunter Shea: This is considered Book 1 in the Jessica Backman books, although–having read all of them available, to date–I would say that each of these can easily be read as a stand-alone, without needing to start here. This year I really got into Hunter Shea’s backlist of books, and this was my personal favorite of Jessica’s stories.
6. BONE WHITE, Ronald Malfi: One word best sums up this novel–“atmosphere”. I can’t even begin to imagine a more formidable environment for this story than the one Malfi uses. The entire tale captures your attention and goes in directions I never predicted; however, the pervading sense of isolation and horror comes from the inhospitable location and Malfi’s use of the natural elements. Hands down, one of the best books I’ve read this year.
7. UNDER A WATCHFUL EYE, Adam Nevill: This supernatural story is one of Nevill’s best, in my humble opinion. The relentless pacing doesn’t give the reader any time to recuperate from one shocking scene to the next. This is the kind of novel Nevill really excels in!
8. BLANKY, Kealan Patrick Burke: One of the most emotional, gut-retching novellas I’ve read all year. Yet it was one I HAD to read. Burke’s words–as usual–are spot on to get the reader really feeling what the characters do. This was a story with multiple possibilities for the reader to consider, and while it was “difficult” in terms of content, it is definitely one that you do NOT want to miss out on!
9. ELIZABETH: A Novel of the Unnatural, Ken Greenhall: This novel was originally published in 1976, and was recently reissued by Valancourt Books. Another gem of a find, Valancourt seems to have a knack for finding those “forgotten” or “neglected” books that really pack a punch. With an great introduction by author Jonathan Janz, this story of a young girl, Elizabeth, is memorable for many reasons. While my primary label for this one would be “Psychological Horror”, the real horror–in my opinion–came less from the actual incidents, and more from the matter-of-fact telling by Elizabeth, herself. As characters go, she is as unforgettable as they get. To say anything more about this novel would do it a grave disservice. This one you simply need to buy and read for yourself to truly appreciate it!
10. SWAMP MONSTER MASSACRE, Hunter Shea: As I’ve mentioned above, this year I really made a dent in Hunter Shea’s backlist of books. I categorize this one as one of his “creature-features”, or “nature gone wrong” style. While I could have individually listed many of these as favorites, this is the one that stood out the most for me to highlight. In one word–character. Once you met the character of Rooster Murphy–who plays his role in this novel with unbelievable conviction–he’ll quickly become one of your favorites with his attitude and the way he seems to be almost a “magnet” for unusual trouble. This story was as fast-paced as you can get, bloody, gory, and filled with a dark humor that really added to the action at the most perfect moments. Other notable books by Shea with this theme are: LOCH NESS REVENGE, THEY RISE, SAVAGE JUNGLE: Lair of the Orang Pendek, and FURY OF THE ORCAS.
11. SAVAGES, Greg Gifune: This book had the potential to be just “another one of those” novels about people landing on a deserted island after an accident. Only, it wasn’t. Gifune held nothing back in this captivating tale! Bloody, savage, great believable characters, and a threat so original in nature that I just didn’t want this story to come to an end!
12. CITY OF GHOSTS, J.H. Moncrieff: This is the first in a series of three paranormal books by Moncrieff, and it REALLY stands out! The location is so vividly portrayed, that I felt as if I was there in person. Everything in this novel seemed to flow naturally, and wasn’t held back by any unnecessary information that didn’t further the tale. Incidentally, I enjoyed the next one just as much!
13. WE CAME BACK, Patrick Lacey: This story had so many different elements in it that there was never a dull moment. With all the variety in the “goings on”, this could have potentially been “too much” in one novel. However, Lacey pulled it off beautifully, with a book that engaged me from beginning to end. Only the second book I’ve read from this author, but I am already anticipating the next.
14. THE DEMONIC: A Supernatural Horror Novel, Lee Mountford: This was the first novel I’ve read from Lee Mountford, and it really left a lasting impression! Another book about a family inheriting a house with “bad memories”, this could have turned out to be like so many other haunted house tales. Only it didn’t. This one truly caught me by surprise by the originality of its content, and the various forms the “haunting” takes. This was not a typical haunted house tale by a long shot–it was something unique that really stood out to me. I already have another book of Mountford’s ready to read in 2018.
15. WE ARE ALWAYS WATCHING, Hunter Shea: Yes, another novel by Hunter Shea–but this one stands out in an entirely different manner. Of all the books of his I’d read this year, I feel this one was his most “character-driven”, and that is what made this “quiet horror” tale unique for me. Once you meet Grandpa Abraham and his son’s family, you’ll understand the pull of this one. From the futility and depression felt by his son, to the cantankerous manner of Abraham, himself, this story will have you second-guessing every thought you come up with to explain the “irregularities” and strange portents occurring.
16. WHISPERING CORRIDORS: A Ghost Story, Ambrose Ibsen: This was another “new-to-me” author that I first read this year. This story starts out with a couple of friends exploring an “urban legend”. While very simplistic in what actually occurs, the legend of the Upside-Down Man will stay will you indefinitely. This story was based primarily on the “fear” of what might come, shadows in corners, and stories handed down through the neighborhood, but never verified. Not only would this have made for a perfect campfire story, it’s one that showcases you don’t need excessive gore or torture in order to really frighten a reader.
17. 12 HOUR OF HALLOWEEN: A Novel, Edward Trimnell: This tale is part coming of age, and part–a LARGE part–of supernatural terror. Yet another “new-to-me” author, I was pleasantly surprised when I read this book for one of my October/Halloween reads. The characters are believable to the point where you feel yourself going along with them on this, their last year of trick-or-treating. A variation on the theme of places where the veil between this world and another run thin, the direction that Trimnell took is what made this one stand out among so many others. The distinct way in which the supernatural begins its approach, to the ending that leaves you thinking over everything you’ve just read and wanting more, this novel brings it all.
18. CHARLOTTE SAYS, Alex Bell: This is the prequel to the previously released FROZEN CHARLOTTE novel by Alex Bell. In this book, we go back to the origin of the Frozen Charlotte dolls. I have to say that I found this story–the characters and the situations–even more chilling than the original! I will definitely be adding some more from this author to my 2018 list.
19. ELTONSBRODY, Edgar Mittelholzer: A gothic novel originally released in 1960, this was another fantastic find re-issued by Valancourt Books. The setting in this story couldn’t have been any more fitting, and the tale itself shows a master author at his craft. I have to give credit to Valancourt Books for bringing out some of these incredible novels that I had never before heard of. Over the years, I’ve found many of their titles on my “favorites” list!
20. PAINTED, Kirsten McKenzie: This was the “horror debut” by author Kirsten McKenzie. This novel took an old superstition, of a sort, and gave it a unique “tale” of its own. There was a lot of thought and ambiguity in places where the reader could “fill in the blanks” of what they feel happened, yet enough detail to leave you feeling that you could connect the dots confidently. I’m genuinely looking forward to what this author has in store for us in the future.
***Books that for one reason or another–usually lack of availability–couldn’t be included on my list***
––PAPERBACKS FROM HELL: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction, Grady Hendrix: This book is a superb addition to any horror lovers library! I use it as a sort of “reference book”, although the chronicling of what changed in the horror publishing world during those decades makes for great reading on its own. (It is interesting to note that some of the books–particularly those reissued by Valancourt Books–that are on my “Top 20 Reads of 2017”, are listed here, too.)
—UNIDENTIFIED, Michael McBride: A fantastic novella that made the top of my list, but is currently unavailable due to the original publisher’s closing.
- THE VALANCOURT BOOK OF HORROR STORIES: Volume Two, edited by James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle: Hands-down, one of the best horror anthologies I read this year! One to keep on the shelves and re-read for certain.
- UGLY LITTLE THINGS: Collected Horrors, Todd Keisling: I loved just about every story in this collection, with the novella, “THE FINAL RECONCILIATION”, being at the top of that list.
- WE SHOULD HAVE LEFT WELL ENOUGH ALONE, Ronald Malfi: A great “themeless” collection of the author’s short works–most of which I hadn’t read before.
- SOME WILL NOT SLEEP: Selected Horrors, Adam Nevill: Simply a great all-around collection.
- WORLDS BETWEEN MY TEETH, Tim Meyer: Some of these, including the thought-provoking title story, won’t let you go once you’ve read them!