As Kendall Reviews moves into its second year of existence, I have the honour of sharing what were my favourite books I’d read in 2018. This was a remarkably difficult thing to do, the quality of the books I have read has been incredible. The genre is thriving, it’s in a wonderful place and things can only get better. To qualify for my Top 10, the only rule was that the book had been fully read. Publication date means nothing, so if a book doesn’t feature this year, I may not have read it yet.
Before I reveal my favourite book of 2018, here are the books that make up the rest of my Top 10. (in no particular order.)
10: The Forgotten Island – David Sodergren
The Forgotten Island is a love letter to those horror movies I watched as a kid on grainy old VHS. It plays to a few of the classic old tropes but Sodergren throws so much originality into the plot and makes his characters so believable that I was hooked. It’s no word of a lie that the pages are dripping with gore and slime. The Forgotten Island will make you smile and make you want to be ill in equal measure. There are things that repulsed me (appendages with leaky tips!) equally as much as I enjoyed jumping from one brilliantly curated set piece to the next. This isn’t gore and violence for the sake of it, everything is perfectly pitched. Characters are absolutely battered on The Forgotten Island with strong females taking the lead and kicking ass.
Wonderfully rich characters that you will love (and some you won’t) feature in a novel, packed with old movie references, gore, violence, humour, wit and originality. David Sodergren’s a talent, he can write and after this stunning debut I am very much a fan.
9: The Sea Was A Fair Master – Calvin Demmer
Having read this book in two short sessions back in July, The Sea Was A Fair Master is still stuck in my head. The quality of writing is exemplary, with each tale feeling unique and wonderfully complete. How a story that barely covers 3 pages can have a beginning, middle and satisfying end whilst featuring genuinely interesting characters is testament to the skill of the author. There are no stories weaker than the other, ask me today what my favourite story was I’d say it was ‘Graves’, (heart breaking), yesterday ‘Restroom Finds’ (brutal with a wonderful twist), tomorrow? It really is that strong a collection.
8: Manifest Recall – Alan Baxter
Manifest Recall is a brutal, action packed masterclass. We are talking about a brutality that would make even Tarantino wince. Manifest Recall is incredibly well written, unflinching but never salacious. There were several moments I was thinking “no Alan, you can’t do that” and you know what? He did! And I loved every blood soaked minute of it! Imagine a John Wick/The Frighteners mashup ramped up to 11! I was there alongside main protagonist Eli, I too could feel the cold steel of the gun pressed against my temple. There were enough horror elements to satisfy the most ardent of fan, whilst obviously still appealing to the crime/thriller reader.
7: Fortune Box – Madeleine Swann
Fortune Box is a collection of 9 bizarro/weird tales offering a consistent level of quality and enough shocks to please even the most hardened of horror fans. Bizarro/Weird is a new genre for me and thanks to Madeleine Swann its a genre I’ll be reading a lot more of.
Switching from the light-hearted to disturbing darkness with skillful ease Fortune Box is a beautiful little book that deserves to be read.
6: Broken On The Inside – Phil Sloman
Phil Sloman is unquestionably a talent, someone I definitely want to read more of. Sloman has a writing style that leaps off the page and offers near perfect characterisation, Broken on the Inside is a superb collection. Five excellent shorts that evoke all sorts of emotions. For a book with such dark, and serious, subject matter it’s not a heavy read in the slightest. It’s so painfully close to perfect.
5: Kill Creek – Scott Thomas
Kill Creek is a brilliant book, the best I’ve read this year. It’s superbly written, with an engrossing plot, incredibly strong characters and dialogue that crackles. With minimal reliance on the old tropes, Kill Creek is packed with scares and nerve wrenching tension. The reader’s treated with respect and is rewarded with first class story telling. Kill Creek is remarkably cinematic at times so the upcoming TV adaptation is very exciting to see how it translates.
Scott Thomas has written a novel in Kill Creek that I hope will find it’s place among the classics of the genre. It really is that good!
4: The Siren And The Specter – Jonathan Janz
The Siren And The Specter is a spectacular tale that includes pretty much everything you’d want in a horror story. It’s a masterclass in creating tension, with perfect characterisation and plotting. Janz took me places in this book I was really not expecting and has cemented himself as one of Kendall Reviews ‘Must Read’ authors. The Siren And The Specter is quite simply brilliant!
3: The Nightmare Room – Chris Sorensen
Right from the off, Sorensen has written some incredibly skillful scares into the plot, some of which had me feeling very uneasy, so much so I had to turn on an extra light. Yes, this is a Haunted House story, but what I found most unsettling were the themes of loss, grief and regret. Sorensen has created characters that are painfully real, that are struggling to cope with the death of a child, trying to keep their relationship alive whilst also dealing with the cruelty of a parent with dementia. This is not done in a heavy-handed way at all, I felt genuine emotion for the heart breaking situation they find themselves in. It’s whilst you are at this low ebb, feeling vulnerable as a reader that Sorensen then hits you with the sucker punch of a supernatural event that truly takes the wind out of your sails. Everything’s heightened to terrifying levels.
2: The Listener – Robert McCammon
This was my first book by Robert McCammon, and I have to say that I initially found his writing style somewhat ‘wordy’ but as you get pulled deeper into the story you realise that not one of these words are wasted. The opening chapter, has conman John Partlow driving his old green Oakland two-door sedan towards his next job, and it’s no exaggeration that the writing was so rich, so descriptive, I could taste the dust as it blew up into the drivers window and smell the hot cars interior with the sun swollen bibles on the back seat.
Characters, even the minor players are all well written and contribute to an engrossing story. For me, Curtis is beautifully written, I loved it whenever he was on the page, he carried himself with dignity even when faced with the disgusting attitudes of the times. Curtis will certainly stand out as one of my favourite characters of any book I’ve read.
The Listener has very little slack within its enthralling 332 pages, with the final 100 pages ramping up the tension to near unbearable levels. The Listener is a brilliant book that triggers all the emotions with a story that completely envelops you.
Kendall Reviews Book Of 2018 is...
1: Creature – Hunter Shea
Hunter Shea has been on the Kendall Reviews radar for a while now. My love of monsters and ‘creature feature’ fiction means that Hunter’s recommended to me regularly. I felt there was no better place to start than with Hunter’s latest novel, the intriguingly entitled ‘Creature’.
I went into this novel with expectations of a fun read, featuring creatures, and characters that were to all intent and purpose, monster fodder. When I finished Creature I had actually read a beautifully written tale about loss, guilt, regret and of a love that strives to survive through major adversity. Don’t panic, Creature’s very much a horror novel, but here Shea has cleverly intertwined his ‘usual’ monsters with horrors that are very real.
Kate and Andrew are a couple that are struggling to cope with what life has thrown at them. Kate has serious health issues which offer a horrific range of symptoms . Her husband Andrew, is working a job he hates just so he can keep the medical insurance to help his ailing wife. It’s here in a surprisingly slow burn that we learn just how fragile their relationship is. They absolutely love each other, but life just doesn’t go where they expected and its this character study I found fascinating. It was this slow burn that embraced me, you really got to know Kate and Andrew. The relationship is written so well, never boring, yet given time to breath. There are aspects of their relationship that resonated with me. The inner dialogue and turmoil written by Shea is spot on, the feelings of love, guilt and regret ring so true. (Unsurprising as Hunter writes in a wonderfully touching Afterword that Creature is, in part, autobiographical)
When Kate starts new experimental treatment, the couple decide to go away for the Summer. They rent a lakeside cabin in Maine, hoping that the change of location and a more relaxed lifestyle will be of benefit to both of them. It’s only once they start finding dead animals, and hearing a horrific screeching that they realise there is something in the woods, and it has them trapped in the very place they have gone to escape the horrible binds of real-life.
Creature is quite simply brilliant! It put me through the wringer, the final third of the book ramps things up to unbearable levels of emotional (and horrific) tension. It’s not very often I finish a horror novel with tears in my eyes, this book connected with me in a way no other has. It’s a beautiful horror story that will stay with you long after you snap the book shut.
I’d like to thank all the readers, subscribers, followers, authors and publishers for making 2018 such a fantastic year for Kendall Reviews.
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