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!