Category Archives: Read This!

2015 Top Reads

Well, another year has come to an end.  Maybe you noticed that, but more than likely you’re too busy watching Star Wars.  I get it.  If I wasn’t terrified of crowds, I’d be seeing it today, too.  Instead, I’m writing this for you.  Pretty cool, huh?  Eh, just roll with it….

Anyway, as I have to say every time I do one of these lists, these are not all books that came out this year.  These are books I read this year.  I am constantly playing catch up and–shocking!–I still haven’t caught up.

So enjoy.  Then follow some links and buy some books.  There’s still time before Christmas!

10. KNIFE FIGHT AND OTHER STRUGGLES by David Nickle – This year, I read a lot of short fiction.  Gotta say, I am so glad I did!  Of all the amazing genre shorts I read this year, this collection contains some of the best.  Nickle’s short fiction settles in deep and refuses to let go.  Strange love stories like “Looker” leave you feeling lovely and shaken and aching, while horrifying satire like “Knife Fight” leaves you thrilled and…also shaken.  To me, the masterpiece of this collection is “Basements,” a story that scared the hell out of me and is one of the quartet of stories I think every genre author should read.

9. HAIR SIDE, FLESH SIDE by Helen Marshall – Marshall writes the kind of dark fantasy the makes your skin crawl.  The stories in this collection cover the gamut from ghost stories to the downright bizarre. Little girls who receive the bodies of saints for their birthdays, editors who find lost manuscripts written on the inside of their skin, and so much more.  You will find something incredible in this collection.

8. THE VISIBLE FILTH by Nathan Ballingrud – Brutal, grimy, horrifying. This novella, about a bartender who recovers a cell phone after a violent brawl and starts receiving more and more disturbing/violent messages, pulls no punches.  Ballingrud starts with a place full of dirt and shadows, makes you feel at home there, and then slowly turns up the heat.  An excellent study in rising tension and engaging characters.

7. WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY FINE by Daryl Gregory – A support group made up of very unique people might just save the world from a very ancient, otherworldly terror.  This novella was the first Gregory I’ve read, but it will be nowhere near the last.  He creates riveting characters and lets the story roll out naturally, not to mention the amazing amount of imagination and a brilliant, heartfelt final twist.  Read.  Now.

6. AVAILABLE DARK by Elizabeth Hand – Cass Neary ain’t your standard heroine.  I mean, she has experience with heroin.  And speed.  And pills.  And death.  She’s lived hard, she’s a mess, and she’s tough as a metal bucket.  There is a lot to love about Cass Neary, but don’t you dare pity her.  This book, the sequel to Generation Loss, is in many ways its equal and in some ways its better.  In this one, Cass travels to Europe to authenticate a series of gruesome photographs for a collector and ends up embroiled in a series of murders related to the Scandinavian black metal scene.  If the standard crime novel isn’t mean enough for you, check out this one.

5. CONFESSIONS by Kanae Minato – Yuko Moriguchi is a teacher giving her last lecture in the wake of her four-year-old’s accidental drowning.  Here’s the thing, though: Yuko knows her child’s death was no accident.  It was murder.  Further, she knows two of her students are the murderers.  This novel, told from several points of view, adds layers of tension and intrigue in a way that never lets you forget the very real hearts of its characters.  You’ll find yourself cringing on one page and then cheering on the next.

4. LET’S PLAY WHITE by Chesya Burke – I was four years late reading Chesya Burke’s most recent collection.  It’s a mistake I will not make again.  At turns terrifying, thought-provoking, and heartbreaking, the stories in Let’s Play White examine society, relationships, and the horrors humans inflict on each other and ourselves, all wrapped in delicious, fantastical prose. The story “Purse” is still lodged in my brain.  I can’t shake it loose.

3. NOT FOR NOTHING by Stephen Graham Jones – Hands down, the best noir I’ve read in years.  Nicholas Bruiseman is a disgraced homicide detective living in a storage unit in his Texas hometown.  When his former cheerleader crush shows up asking for help, it leads him on a path straight to destruction.  Nicholas is all too human, making choices he thinks are the right ones only to find they were wrong at best and downright stupid at worst.  Jones writes prose that crackles with a pitch black energy.  This one, here…amazing.

2. A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay – Look, if you read any list of the best horror novels of the year, you’ll read about this book.  Stephen King loved it.  Brian Keene loved it.  Everyone loved it.  Why?  It’s amazing.  A demon possession novel that makes you continuously doubt there’s an actual possession taking place, A Head Full of Ghosts keeps you guessing right up to the last page and beyond, the way The Caretaker of Lorne Field and Gone Girl did in years past.  Paul always delivers the goods.  He does the same here, and it is well worth the read.

1. THE PULSE BETWEEN DIMENSIONS AND THE DESERT by Rios de la Luz – Holy Hell, man.  I was not prepared.  Not even a little. Rios de la Luz came out of nowhere to deliver this collection–her first–and amaze me on every level.  In these stories she rides a razor’s edge between crime, fantasy, and horror (so much so that some might call these stories bizarro, which I find steals some of the credit due her incredible balancing act) while exploring such themes as alienation, racism, sexism, family, and so much more.  Some stories are sweet and wondrous, while some are so brutal they’ll make you flinch.  No other book I read this year was so refreshing and thought-provoking.  nothing made me feel as deep and desperately as this collection.  Rios is it.  Check her out immediately.

Top Five Reads of 2014

It’s been a few years since I did this.  Sorry about that.  I’m constantly behind in my reading (and I’m not the lightning fast reader I used to be).  Because of this, the following list is a top five instead of a top ten, and it’s made up of books I read this year.  Very few, if any, were first published in 2014.

1. WILD FELL by Michael Rowe – One of the best parts of my ReaderCon trip this year was plunking down cash at the ChiZine table.  Those folks put out great books year after year. Among my many great buys, Michael Rowe’s WILD FELL stands at the top.  An ominous and unique take on the ghost story, Rowe starts with a kernal of dread and builds and builds.  The book accelerates as you read it, and I was finished with this one before I reached my first layover on the way home. Excellent read!

2. THE BEAUTIFUL THING THAT AWAITS US ALL by Laird Barron – This year brought us Laird Barron’s third collection, and it may be his best yet.  Dripping with atmosphere, the stories in this collection just burrow deep into the center of you.  “The Men From Porlock” was the stand out for me, with a look at Barron’s Old Leech, which is one of the best creations the genre’s seen in years.

3. SCALPED by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera – This was the year I finally finished SCALPED, Aaron and Guera’s amazing comics tale of an undercover FBI agent infiltrating the reservation where he was raised.  One of the best noir comics I’ve ever read, full of intrigue, violence, heartbreak, and some of the most powerful characters you’ll find in comics.  I’ve linked to the first trade paperback collection.  Start there and work your way through the entire story.

4. THE WIDE, CARNIVOROUS SKY & OTHER MONSTROUS GEOGRAPHIES by John Langan – Langan is one of the best writers of short fiction working today, and this collection (only his second) almost feels like a victory lap, with Langan putting his unique spin on several of the genre’s better-known tropes.  There’s the zombie version of OUR TOWN, for instance.  With “Technicolor,” he twists Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” into something even more terrifying.  The title story, might I add, is the second best vampire story I’ve read…ever.

5. NORTH AMERICAN LAKE MONSTERS by Nathan Ballingrud – What’s the best vampire story I’ve ever read? Why, it would be “Sunbleached” from this collection, which is a story that hits like a punch right to the heart.  I’d never read Ballingrud before this colelction, but I can now say he’s one of my favorite writers.  The stories collected in this book are outstanding from front to back.  Grab a copy and start reading.  You won’t be sorry.

Recent Reads

I’ve decided it might be a good idea to let you fine folks in on what I’m reading at any given point and whether I think it’s worth a recommendation. Sure, you might say that’s because I need blog material.  And sure, you’d be right.  Still….

YELLOW MEDICINE by Anthony Neil Smith

This one’s a few years old, and I just got around to it last month.  An entertaining addition to the “shit goes nuts” style of crime thriller, where things just get worse with each twist and turn and there’s little room to breathe, Yellow Medicine is full of cracking prose, frozen atmosphere, and some wonderfully ruthless villains.  A deputy is asked for help by a local girl he’s been crushing on.  Her boyfriend appears to have run into some trouble with some shady characters, and she wants the deputy’s help.  What follows is a roller coaster of meth dealers, severed heads, shootings, frame jobs, and terrorists, and every page of it is exciting. 

While I enjoyed the hell out of the book, I’m a little disappointed in the main character.  The book’s “hero,” Deputy Billy Lafitte is so crooked Vic Mackie would probably shake his head in disappointment.  He’s so thoroughly rotten that I can’t root for him at all.  Wanting the hero to fail isn’t a good sign, no matter how thrilling a book is.

THE BALLAD OF BALLARD AND SANDRINE by Peter Straub

Ballard and Sandrine are lovers and the stars of this gripping novella.  Their story takes place over the course of twenty-five years and largely on a mysterious yacht that’s motoring its way down the Amazon.  They never see the ship’s crew, and they can’t identify the wonderful food they’re fed.  Slowly, they explore more of the ship and learn some of its secrets, and what they find is truly horrific.  I’d tell you more, but peeling back the layers of this particular story is most of the fun.

Peter Straub remains an amazing writer because of his ability to let a story unfold in a way that’s both natural and ominous.  The more we learn about both the yacht and our protagonists, the deeper the horror takes root.  By the end of this all-too-short novella, I was afraid to turn the page.  I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

PEOPLE LIVE STILL IN CASHTOWN CORNERS by Tony Burgess

Depending on your point of view, this one is either a short novel or a long novella.  Either way, it’s a wonderful peek into the mind of a deranged narrator.  Using sparse language, Cashtown Corners tells the story of Bob Clark, owner of a gas station and a man losing his grip on reality.  When he murders a woman for what appears to be no reason, he sends his life hurtling down a new path, and he drags the reader along for every macabre step.

Burgess, who previously wrote Pontypool Changes Everything, tells this story with a voice that’s so measured and almost clinical that at times it feels like a true crime book.  It makes some of the book’s later developments, one of which is delivered by a chapter that consists of a single line, that much more shocking.  Grab this one as soon as you can.

Updates and Go-To Authors

Hello, out there.  Here I am, one day shy of going an entire month without an update.  Even if it is a tiny little month like February, that’s just unacceptable.  So, I’ll start by giving a few updates, and then I’ll move forward to something a little fun.  Okay?

UPDATES

First off, LIGHTS OUT is well apst halfway to being sold out.  If you’re interested in my brutal vampire novel, you might want to go grab one. Feedback has been very good so far.  A lot of folks are enjoying this one, so you might as well be one of them.

JUST LIKE HELL is now available in that wonderful Kindle format the kids all seem to love.

On January 1st, I turned in my next novel, DOWN.  There’s no concrete release schedule, so I’ll just tell you it’s coming this spring.

On April 1st, my novel THE SLABS is due to another publisher.  No release schedule on this one, either.  It’s coming, though!

GO-TO AUTHORS

So now I have a message board over at the Slaughterhouse Forums. On one of the boards, somebody asked who serves as everyone’s go-to authors.  Y’know, the folks you read whenever you want something you know will be fantastic.  I thought it was a fun little question, so I decided to flesh out my answer here, letting you know why these folks are my go-to authors.

Norman Partridge – Every now and again, I hear folks use the word pulp in a way that’s really code for “I like slasher movies and want my books to be the same.”  This never fails to piss me off, because there are some writers, like Norman Partridge, who do pulp in a way that I consider “right.” Norm takes the best facets of crime, creature features, comic books, and everything else you loved as a kid and turns it into something smart, action-packed, and terrifying. When you read something like DARK HARVEST or “Lesser Demons,” you can feel the grit on the page.  You can see the story in your head, playing like a grimy, scratched 16MM print.  Reading a Norman Partridge story is like grabbing a revolver and a bottle of bourbon, throwing them in the passenger seat, and shoving the gas to the floor as you aim for the horizon.  You don’t know what’s coming, but the ride is guaranteed to be amazing.

Sarah Langan – I first encountered Sarah when her debut novel THE KEEPER was filling bookstores in Austin.  I grabbed a copy and started reading.  A few days later, I had a new favorite author.  Langan creates characters who are flawed, possibly even shattered.  The horror in her stories comes not from something supernatural (thought there is plenty of that, and it’s always amazing), but from watching these people try, fail, and then try again, only to fail to an even greater degree.  You root for her characters, and every ounce of anguish they feel twists inside you.  Do yourself a favor and grab one of her novels.  You’ll thank me.

Laird Barron – If you’re a fan of weird, quiet horror that slowly wraps its fingers around you and then squeezes, you need to do yourself a favor and pick up one of Laird Barron’s collections.  Barron works wonders with prose, using the language in a way that just keeps ratcheting up the tension.  He writes about strange things, the hidden corners of the world and why they should remain hidden.  I want to say his stories are Lovecraftian, but I think that’s too narrow.  Besides Lovecraft never started a story with, “Then he bites off my shooting hand.”  Check out either THE IMAGO SEQUENCE or OCCULTATION.  Both are worth the read.

Gillian Flynn – The author of two novels, SHARP OBJECTS and DARK PLACES, that were marketed as mystery but could easily be classified as horror stories.  And what horrific stories they are!  While there are no supernatural entities in her works, Flynn’s novels start out as apparently simple whodunits before taking a sharp left turn deep into darker country.  The last few chapter of SHARP OBJECTS in particular floored me, leaving me staring in horror at the book in my hands long after I was done reading.  I can’t recall having such a visceral reaction to a book (other than one that was so awful I vowed to never give the author a second chance).  Seriously, start with SHARP OBJECTS and start reading.

Tom Piccirilli – I’d been aware of Tom Piccirilli for a while, had even picked up some of his older, strictly horror works.  When he released THE DEAD LETTERS, however, I really sat up and took notice.  Pic uses the English language like a knife, cutting away at the story with both long, elegant strokes and short, brutal jabs.  He writes crime novels that keep you guessing, that read like broken romances.  When I read his latest, EVERY SHALLOW CUT, I felt like he’d taken the mind of every writer, cut it to pieces, and put it out for display.  Pic doesn’t just shock or horrify you, he reaches inside and twists.  Of all the writers I’ve mentioned here, I’m looking forward to Piccirilli’s next book the most.

Hi, 2012. How’s it going?

So here we are, another year.  This one feels different for me.  In past years, I’ve been able to look forward with a fair degree of optimism, saying fun things like “Surely no family members will die this year!”  As 2012 gets started though, I feel pretty lost.  I’m single and living in an apartment that still doesn’t feel like a home.  I’m looking at a lot of big bills coming up in order to keep my car running and my cat in good health. 

It’s funny… last week, I tried to write my top ten books of the year, only to realize that I read six books in all of 2011.  That’s down from over 100 in 2010.  My concentration is all over the place, and I really just need to tighten up and focus.

So that’s what I’m doing this year.  I’m trying to focus and concentrate.  I need to get back into the groove of things and hopefully find a way to be happy again.  The last three years have been a study in depression, and I’m pretty fucking sick of it.

So let’s run down the good news…

Later this month, Thunderstorm Books will release my next novel, Lights Out.  It’s brutal fun, and features 100% more vampires and prison sex than anything I’ve written previously.  Maybe that’s a selling point, and maybe it isn’t.  We’ll find out!

This spring, Sinister Grin Press will release Down, a novel that can best be described as “What would happen if a nineties rock band crashlanded in a forest full of really nasty things.”  That’s your bare bones description.  There will be more details in the coming months.

I have another zombie novel due on April 1st (seriously).  Can’t say much about it, but I promise it will be fun.

So that keeps me busy through the first few months of the year.  After that, I’ll be searching for a home for a crime novel of mine, working on another novel I’m currently calling Porcelain, and considering another short story collection.  Here’s hoping it all goes well.

Happy New Year, everybody.  Be good to each other.

Under the Dome

More than a year late, I finally read Stephen King’s Under the Dome.  It shouldn’t be that surprising, because I’m always behind in my reading.  There are only a handful of writers (Gillian Flynn, Sarah Langan, Paul Tremblay, Norman Partridge, Brian Keene) that I’ll read almost immediately.  Everybody else has to wait until my mood is right.

Well, I wish I hadn’t waited, because Under the Dome quickly became one of my favorite King works (Fun Note: I originally spelled the title as Under the Dame, which I’m sure is a very different book).

For those who might also be behind on their reading, Under the Dome is about the small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine and how, shortly before election time in 2012, a dome drops over the entire town, trapping the residents inside.  It’s a simple-yet-brilliant set up, and what happens to Chester’s Mill’s citizens over the space of the next week is nothing short of horrific.  King digs the knife in deep and twists it mercilessly.  Really, he’s just as good as he’s always been.

What sets this novel apart for me, however, is the villain.  Big Jim Rennie, the town’s second selectman (what the hell is a selectman, anyway?), isn’t the supernatural force of nature that Randall Flagg or Pennywise the Clown is.  In truth, he’s something much worse: crooked, human, self-righteous, and convinced above all things that he’s right.  There were more than a few chapters in Under the Dome that had me shaking with anger.  That’s good writing.  The only other writing passage to get such a visceral reaction from me was the end of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects.

So, for those of you who thought the King is dead, you’re wrong.  Go pick up Under the Dome.  Long live the King!

Chasing the Dragon

This past week, I read an amazing novella by Nicholas Kaufman.  You should do the same!  Chasing the Dragon is a work of modern day fantasy and horror with enough action, whimsy, and darkness to fill a three voume epic.

Chasing the Dragon stars Georgia, a descendant of St. George.  What most people don’t know is that St. George failed to slay the dragon all those years ago, and now Georgia is the latest in a long line of slayers who must destroy the dragon before it destroys the world.

Georgia has some issues, though.  Among them is a powerful heroin addiction.  She’s as damaged as she is tough, and she’s one of the most fully realized heroines I’ve seen in a long time.

Kaufmann writes some amazing action.  The scenes of Georgia battling the dragon’s minions are some of the best sequences I’ve read in years.  You really owe it to yourself to check out this one.  Chock full of shotguns, zombies, history, action, and emoion, Chasing the Dragon is one of the best books I’ve read this year.  Go pick it up.  You won’t be sorry.

The Monster Outside the Closet

Nicholas Kaufmann writes a monthly column for Fear Zone called The State of the Genre.  It’s a great read, and one everybody should look up.  Nick’s one of the smartest folks we’ve got in this genre.

This month, Nick tackles the issue of homosexuality and how it’s perceived by some within the horror community.  He gives Just Like Hell a nice little shout, but it’s the words he says about the issue at hand that really matter.  Horror should be an all-inclusive genre, and to many it is, but like everything else in the world, we’ve still got a long way to go.  I’m hoping we get there someday.