My best of a shit year

Compiling any ‘best of’ list is always tricky and usually scorn inducing; how can he put that on there as this is so much better? If that’s you when you finish reading this, well, you can always make your own damn list.

A couple of caveats before I begin.

  1. This is not in order. It was hard enough to come up with this list without the added pressure of putting some sort of grading on it. I do enough of that in my day job.
  2. This list is new to me, this year. Not necessarily released in 2020.
  3. The list was previously published over at Gingernuts of Horror. If there is some reason you follow this blog but don’t read that, well, you need to fix that now. Jim Mcleod and his team are amongst the most knowledgeable and supportive people out there.

Here we go!

Fiction

Locke and Key – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Fantastic graphic novel about a house and the magical keys the kids find in there. It manages a fine line between humour (dark), imagination, a detailed plot and a sense of wonder. Absolutely brilliant. I haven’t watched the TV series yet, and I have to confess to being more than a little dubious as to how it would work.

We All Hear Stories In The Dark – Robert Shearman

What more can be said about this? 101 short stories with an overarching tale of a man trying to recover his lost wife. Heart-breaking, funny, scary, thought-provoking – it’s all here.  Every story is reviewed elsewhere on Gingernuts of Horror so I’ll keep this brief. Buy it.

Buy it now.

Scavenger Summer – Steven Savile

First of all – look at the cover! This is a short, extremely fast-paced read about a summer in the 80s. A boy finds his mother dead on the beach and it all unravels from there. It starts dark, get darker then you get to the ending. Brilliant book.

Wanderers – Chuck Wendig

I’ll be honest, reading a book which features the CDC trying to combat a plague during a global pandemic was not my greatest decision. This, however, flies by. It is a big book, but don’t let that put you off.

This is a great story, a great concept and written extremely well. There are parts that don’t quite work, which is a definite trait of the longer books I’ve read this year. The rock god character could have been edited out without any loss to the story (plus, he’s extremely annoying). I also had issues with the extreme right-wing bad guy and some of his actions that didn’t quite ring true, but I don’t want to go into details for fear of spoilers. Perhaps a chat for the comments section?

The Rot – Paul Kane

Another short, quick read with not a word wasted. It’s also really, really bleak. Something has gone terribly wrong with the world and we follow the main character as he explores his surroundings. Paul Kane is a lovely fella in real life, which might be because he gets his dark thoughts out on the page. Or he needs help. One or the other. Fantastic book.

Special mention here to the narration by Chris Barnes too – really captured the grimness of the story and the hope of the main character.

A Quiet Apocalypse – Dave Jeffery

Well, if we’re going bleak, we have to include this. A world where the vast majority of people are deaf, so hearing becomes a gift and a curse. Jeffery is an economical writer, but somehow builds a fascinating world with characters you care about. The interactions in this are all too real creating an extremely dark tone.

Sequel is out in January. Can’t wait.

11/22/63 – Stephen King

There is a large Facebook group dedicated to horror readers and discussions of Stephen King crop up regularly in it. One member even suggested that King doesn’t write horror stories, which says to me he hasn’t read much King. A frequent refrain is that King has ‘lost it’, yet the very fact he is still being discussed means he hasn’t.

I put reading this book off for a long time, mostly because I’m not American so I don’t really get the fascination around JFK. This was a mistake on my behalf – this is an amazing book, and a reminder of just how quickly King can get you turning the pages. A definite high point in the later King catalogue.

The Swarm – Frank Schatzing

I considered not including this, as basically it’s far too long and the pacing is all over the place. Problematic characters and info dumps abound. At one point, someone goes to a funeral for around 50 pages. However, the set pieces and entire concept are fantastic, so here we are. Something is happening to the oceans. Whales attack boats. Crabs carrying disease invade the coastline. Tsunamis. Definitely not a beach holiday read.

The Searching Dead – Ramsey Campbell

Ramsey Campbell is an amazing writer. He can take a normal event (for example, early in this book, a man pushing a pram through a Churchyard) and make it seem so weird and off that it makes your skin crawl. A superb Lovecraftian tale, with two more books in the trilogy to read once you’re done with this.

Brilliant.

Les Vacances – Phil Sloman

A novella from Sloman, which focusses on a couple’s ill-advised trip to rural France. No spoilers here, but Sloman is adept at creating an atmosphere of dread and his characterisation is superb. This would be a great place to start if you’ve not read anything by him.

Non-fiction

Easy – an equal tie between Kit Power’s My Life In Horror and Stephen Volk’s Coffinmaker Blues. Both contain superb essays and are entirely honest about what it means to be a writer. Powers are recollections of his favourite films, books and albums but also touches on events such as Hillsborough and Live Aid. Volk’s essays are brutally honest accounts of his professional life as a screenwriter.

The thing that both books have in common is the honesty and humanity within them. Essential reading.

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