In the first of our three annual TOP TEN lists, Nick Cato picks his favorites released within the last 12 months...
"I read 43 novels this past year, far from my usual 60-80, but among those, these were the ones that stuck with me..."
1) TIDE OF STONE by Kaaron Warren. Warren rarely disappoints, and when she's on, few can come close. TIDE OF STONE is easily my favorite of all her works, and is a title I'll surely be revisiting. From my review: "TIDE OF STONE is a sublime fever dream of ever-building dread with some fantastic atmosphere and a dark fantasy slant that's only given to us in tiny bites as to keep the tale grounded in reality (the odd condition of the prisoners, for example, kept me flipping the pages to find out more). I haven't enjoyed a "quiet horror novel" this much since the classic T.M. Wright novels of the early 80s."
2) THE RUST MAIDENS by Gwendolyn Kiste. Kiste's debut novel more than satisfied those of us who became fans through her short stories. In the past year she has become one of my new faves and a must read author. From my review: "The novel is a depressing but powerful look at growing up facing a future that doesn't seem to hold too many chances, but somehow through the muck our protagonist manages to survive, and in Kiste's hands we're pulled along at a perfect pace. For those who complain there aren't enough female "coming of age" stories, THE RUST MAIDENS should satisfy, but there's a lot more to be mined here. A fantastic debut novel."
3) HALYCON by Rio Youers. Youers seems to make my lists often, but that shouldn't surprise anyone who has read him. Watching him grow as a storyteller over the years has been a pleasure, and this time he delivered one of his best yet. From my review: "This novel may be promoted as a "thriller," but Youers' use of the paranormal, along with a small-press level of brutal violence, makes HALCYON a solid horror novel with a lot to say about our society and how families cope with tragedy. I loved it."
4) FROZEN SHADOWS AND OTHER CHILLING STORIES by Gene O'Neill. This hefty short story collection is a real feast, no easy feat considering this is the author's 6th one! From my review: "FROZEN SCREAMS AND OTHER CHILLING TALES is a fantastic collection by a writer who is considered one of the best in the genre, and while I've read and enjoyed some of O'Neill's novels and stories over the years, this collection is proof of the praise given him. His ability to spin familiar themes and still keep the reader guessing until the last page is notable, as are the realistic people he creates to experience these horrors. This is the perfect place for newbies to start and a must read for long time fans."
5) THE GOAT PARADE by Peter N. Dudar. Occult horror is my favorite subgenre, and Dudar brings it here in spades. Best of all, this one delivers some serious chills. From my review: "THE GOAT PARADE is a solid old-school styled, no BS horror novel, with children in constant peril, a realistic cast, and a fresh feel to some familiar ground. The portrayal of Old Scratch doesn’t sensationalize him as many stories do, which adds to the impending sense of dread that builds in each chapter. And be warned: the author holds back NO punches during the finale. Makes a great triple-feature, rainy weekend read with Douglas Clegg’s GOAT DANCE and James Newman’s THE WICKED."
6) COCKBLOCK by C.V. Hunt. Hunt continues to come up with some of the wildest stories out there, this time taking on politics and current social issues. From my review: "Hunt brings us some of the craziest ideas in the genre, twisting tropes in ways you’d never expect. COCKBLOCK is full of social and political subtext and an urgent cry for justice, done in an irresistible way. Things may seem absurd one minute, and the next we wonder if this could possibly be where we're headed as a nation. With 15 titles under her belt, Hunt has become a force to be reckoned with, and COCKBLOCK is easily one of her best. It's an epic tale told in an easily digestible size."
7) WALKING ALONE by Bentley Little. Little's second full-sized short story collection is another platter of the macabre fans have come to expect, and contains what have become a couple of my favorites from him. From my review: "Bentley Little is often praised for his short stories, and while THE COLLECTION (2002) is still my favorite of his works, WALKING ALONE is an impressive display of his talent, his newer stories here testifying he has truly become a master of the macabre, the weird, the just plain “out there.” A couple of tales show Little perhaps a bit more “normal,” but those who may have an issue with this will be glad to know his deranged side is still very well represented. Long time fans will find much to love here (and not only for the nods to past stories and novels), while newcomers looking for no-holds-barred horror will undoubtedly leave satisfied"
8) THE MOORE HOUSE by Tony Tremblay. Like THE RUST MAIDENS above, I was a fan of Tremblay's short stories, and was thrilled to report his debut novel read like it was written by a seasoned vet. From my review: "I’m a big fan of religious-themed horror, and I enjoyed Tremblay’s approach to it. Father MacLeod is the last priest on earth who should be performing exorcisms, but when he does we cheer him on despite his hypocritical lifestyle. It’s also refreshing to see a couple of religious women (Agnes and Nora) still striving to serve God regardless of their excommunication and the fact they’re lovers. Celeste becomes a major player here despite being the newest member of the team, and what becomes of her and Father MacLeod in the final pages is quite disturbing. With plenty of haunted house mayhem (I was reminded of Simon Clark’s THE TOWER a couple of times), an interesting cast (I’d like to see more of the mysterious pawn store owner), and a flawed but likable crew of demon hunters, THE MOORE HOUSE is a fine debut and a quick read to get the chills going."
9) SKULLFACE BOY by Chad Lutzke. One of a couple of titles I read by Lutzke this year and easily my favorite. Out of the many newer authors I've been reading, Lutzke is developing a seriously fresh, unique voice. From my review: "Set in the 1980s, SKULLFACE BOY is more an emotional tale of self discovery than it is a horror story, but I think genre fans will enjoy this slick coming of age meditation on loneliness, trust, and destiny that’s told in an almost surreal manner. This is the second book I’ve read by Lutzke this year, and it’s definitely something special."
10) LAST DAY by Bryan Smith. Since bursting onto the scene with his novel HOUSE OF BLOOD 14 years ago, Smith has been churning out some of the more extreme horror novels in the genre, and LAST DAY is about as over the top as it gets. This pre-apocalyptic blood bath looks at what a few lunatics would do during the last hours of earth before an asteroid strike promises extinction. From my review: "LAST DAYS is a sick, hyper-violent, at times terrifying, and lightning-paced descent into madness. I actually held on to my junk a few times and winced, causing me to finish some sections through one eye. The violence gets so extreme it borders on the absurd, but Smith’s characters are relatable (whether we want to admit so or not) and it forces us to read on. I can only imagine, if anyone survives the asteroid strike, what Smith’s POST apocalyptic world will be like. Be very afraid."