This year was terrible in so many ways, but one thing that got me through was reading fantastic books. Here are my top 10 reads of the year.
Writing in the Dark by Tim Waggoner
I’ve read quite a few non-fiction books on the craft of writing, but few have been as comprehensive as this one. Informative and thought-provoking, this book felt like a complete course study in how to write effective horror. Packed with intense exercises to examine your own work, as well as mini-interviews with giants in the genre, this is an excellent resource for anyone writing dark fiction.
Labyrinth of the Dolls by Craig Wallwork
This is the second book in the Tom Nolan detective series, and I enjoyed it even more than the first. Set nearly a year after the events of the previous story, Nolan is faced with a new set of grisly murders where the victims are dressed as dolls. Thrilling from start to finish and filled with complex characters, this novel is crime fiction perfection.
Things Not Made by Michael Sellars
If you combined the beautifully dark vision of Guillermo del Toro, the bizarre imagination of Lewis Carroll, and added splashes of cosmic horror, the result would be Things Not Made by Michael Sellars. Equally terrifying and heartbreaking, the story follows two friends desperately trying to reach each other after one is transported to an alternate reality populated by nightmarish creatures. On top of an intense plot, the novella is filled with rich delicious words making the prose an absolute delight.
A-Z of Horror: C is for Cannibals, anthology by Red Cape Publishing
The 13 stories in this collection range from science fiction to family dramas, from magic and the occult to extreme horror, creating a vast sampler platter of cannibalistic horrors. Before opening this anthology, I thought I had read nearly every scenario on flesh consumption, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The variety and innovative twists kept me glued to the pages, and the quality of the writing had me searching out more works by authors I hadn’t read before.
Switchboard by Andrew Post
Some books are best enjoyed going in knowing as little as possible, and this is one of them. But I can tell you there’s an undercover narcotics detective, body modification surgeries, drug-induced visions, ghosts inhabiting papier-mâché people, and burner phones connected to another dimension. From the strange setting to the author’s attention to the smallest details, I was absolutely blown away by this thrilling tragedy.
Forest Underground by Lydian Faust
Part fairy tale, part detective mystery, Forest Underground grabbed me on the first page and didn’t let go. The novel explores the traumatic pasts of a psychiatrist and her patient, selfish motives, abuses of power, and a cottage crawlspace packed with corpses. The writing is beautiful and understated with the author knowing exactly when to use details sparingly and when to let them flow, guiding the reader through a mysterious world where nothing is as it seems.
Plain by David T. Griffith
Plain is the story of Essy, who seems ordinary at first, but as her fractured mind reveals a history of violence, alcoholism, and delusions, it becomes clear she’s anything but plain. The author brilliantly uses an unreliable narrator to evoke empathy and revulsion, with glimpses of the character’s life as both victim and perpetrator of violence. This lean novella packs a massive punch creating a disturbing and immersive reading experience.
Everyone is a Moon by Sawney Hatton
The 12 stories in this collection range from satire to science fiction, from ghost stories to extreme horror, but the commonality throughout was that I finished each tale feeling shaken. I’m not talking about being scared out of my mind, but rather a slow build of unease that gets deep under your skin, leading you to contemplate things you’d rather leave alone. Inspired by Mark Twain’s quote, “Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody,” the author deftly explores the dark side of humanity throughout the book.
Coppice & Break: A Dark Fiction Anthology by Crone Girls Press
From grizzly body horror to dark science fiction, this anthology of 23 stories runs the full gamut of superb speculative fiction. I was thoroughly impressed by the strength of the writing and the variations in subject matter, and even stories that seemed to be on familiar dark fiction paths took wonderfully unexpected twists. But what made this collection really stand out was the order of entries, as editor Rachel A. Brune arranged them like a maestro conducting a world-class symphony building the overall reading experience by modulating the tone and tension, making this nearly impossible to put down.
The Little Exorcist by Alys Daddi
Normally I don’t read anything aimed for younger people, but I took a chance on this MG/YA novel and I’m so glad I did. When young Molly’s dad begins acting stranger than normal, all the adults are convinced that mental illness is the culprit, but she suspects something more sinister is afoot. The Little Exorcist is a great rollercoaster of a novel, with a good balance of emotional strife and intense action, perfect for fans of psychological and paranormal horror aged 13 and up.
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
As curator of “Scary’s Voices” on Kendall Reviews, an article series reviewing horror podcasts, Sullivan loves listening to all things spooky. If you have a horror podcast recommendation, let her know.
On top of contributing short stories to Kendall Reviews, her fiction has appeared in Don’t Open the Door (2019), It Came From The Darkness (2020), and she acted as an assistant editor for Black Dogs, Black Tales (2020). Other spooky tales and updates on her writing journey can be found on her blog.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan