Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Top Ten Reads for 2015 (Part One)

In the first of what we hope will be a 3 or 4 part series, the staff of THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW will be sharing their favorite reads of 2015. First up is from this e-zine's founder, Nick Cato.

by Nick Cato

I had a difficult time choosing my top ten books this year, as the amount of excellent reads in the horror genre were plentiful. I keep a "running tab" during each year, and the main way I decide my list is on the titles that stayed with me the longest, or those that kept coming back to mind. A couple of the books listed below grew on me, and in the case of one, I actually went back and re-read the second half to make sure its impact was as great as I've been claiming (that'd be my number one choice).

There were several titles I didn't get to that were highly recommended (I'm especially hoping to get to Tim Lebbon's THE SILENCE soon), but out of the 55 novels and novellas I read in 2015, my favorites are:

10) DOLL FACE by Tim Curran is like an extreme episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE that features plenty of old fashioned scares and will have readers racing to the final chapter. Wonderfully weird and full of truly creepy images.

9) OUT OF THE WOODS by William D. Carl: picture THE HILLS HAVE EYES meets FROM BEYOND on the set of DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT with a finale so heartbreaking you just might scream out loud. Carl's ode to grindhouse cinema takes its inspirations and a healthy dose of dark humor into what is easily the author's best and most entertaining novel to date.

8) ORPHANS OF WONDERLAND by Greg F. Gifune is a horrifying look at childhood secrets, demonic activity and what may be waiting for us on the other side. Gifune's blend of "satanic panic" and government conspiracies is a fresh take on genre tropes, complete with an incredibly dark conclusion.

7) RITUALISTIC HUMAN SACRIFICE by C.V. Hunt. More so than any other novel I've read this year, this is just so over-the-top (without being silly) it managed to bring the chills on a grand scale I wasn't expecting. Hunt's small town terror tale is deeply disturbing and definitely not for the squeamish.

6) THE CONSULTANT by Bentley Little. After several more experimental tales, Little is back with another "old school" type novel, only this time the dark humor is done to perfection and doesn't hinder the macabre happenings. An excellent return to form from one of my all time favorite writers. I think with the right actor in the title role, this would make one fantastic horror film.

5) ALECTRYOMANCER AND OTHER WEIRD TALES by Christopher Slatsky. There was a serious rise in "weird fiction" this past year, and Slatsky's collection proved he's leading the pack by a wide margin. His story 'Corporautolysis' shows off his skills as a writer and storyteller and his hard to discern blending of genres keeps readers guessing in every tale. A few of these stories hold up great to multiple reads, and some even require it.

4) THE DEATH HOUSE by Sarah Pinborough. This 2014 UK novel was released in the U.S. this year and is easily Pinborough's finest. Until the age of 18, children can catch a fatal disease and are sent to an isolated home on an island. This reminded me of GIRL, INTERRUPTED meets OUTBREAK, with an unforgettable ending and well developed characters. One of those novels you hate to see end.

3) SLOWLY WE ROT by Bryan Smith. I never thought a zombie novel would make my list here in 2015; despite zombies being well over the saturation point (and frankly, I'm just sick of them), Smith managed to create an irresistible zombie tale like no other, with an amazing cast and depth unusual for any kind of novel, let alone one about the undead. There are countless "road trip" zombie novels, but none can touch this. Not even close.

2) A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay is a nearly flawless, fresh spin on the possession story and delivers a conclusion that will be debated among genre fans for years to come. Genuinely scary and impossible to put down, Tremblay's novel topped most fan's favorite horror novel lists for 2015. It lives up to all the hype it has received and then some.

1) MR. SUICIDE by Nicole Cushing is one of the best debut novels in years, and I don't say that lightly. This is an absolutely brutal, horrifying read that doesn't rely on splatter to disturb. Cushing's tale manages to get under your skin and into your head and refuses to let go. Seriously...this one messed my head up for days. Most notable here is the author's use of a second person viewpoint, which enhances the novel's overall sense of dread and terror. Expertly crafted to freak you out, MR. SUICIDE is not to be missed by any serious fan of horror fiction. After a couple of fantastic novellas and a short story collection, this novel has catapulted Cushing to the top of my must-read list.

As I mentioned earlier, 2015 was indeed a GREAT year for horror fiction, and as honorable mentions I'd like to note three more titles that are highly recommended:

- INFLICTIONS by John McIlveen is a fantastic short story collection featuring 23 tales and not a slow one in the lot. McIlveen often masterfully blends horror and humor to killer effect.

- DEAD RINGERS by Christopher Golden went in a direction I didn't see coming, and what looked like a scifi-type tale became an original occult horror yarn to be reckoned with.

-HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS by Gary A. Braunbeck is a mammoth collection of tales from one of the best writers in the business. I had read several of these stories two or three times before and none have lost their power.


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