Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2016

Once again I was fortunate enough to read somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 books in the last calendar year.  At this time I'd like to present my favorite reads of 2016.  The first 9 books on the list are in alphabetical order and then, at the end, I'll give you my favorite read in four categories.

Dark Matter - Blake Crouch

I was immediately taken in by the author's writing style.  Clear, concise, narrative.  Fully realized characters.  And a thrilling story to boot. Dark Matter is an amazing journey that is wildly imaginative yet totally believable.

The actual quantum physics involved are a bit over my head, but simplified to the point where even I could follow along.

There are several unexpected twists along the way and underneath all the science and mystery is a love story for the ages.

I Will Rot Without You - Danger Slater 

I Will Rot Without You is not a book I would have sought out on my own.  I've never read anything by the author, other than some of the reviews he's written on Goodreads.  I've never read anything from the small press responsible for its publication, although I have read a number of short stories from John Skipp, the owner of Fungasm Press.

I Will Rot Without You is gonzo or bizarro writing with a bit of beautiful prose mixed in.  At times surreal and totally off-the-wall, yet the underlying story is charming.  Its so much more than in-your-face splatterpunk, it truly defies description.

Mongrels - by Stephen Graham Jones

Mongrels is a completely different kind of werewolf story, told from the point of view of a teenage werewolf who has yet to shift for the first time.  In addition to facing the same issues teens everywhere must deal with, this one faces the uncertainty of when, or even if, he will ever change.

Good literary horror is something to be appreciated, and when you combine that with werewolves, it's time to relax in your favorite reading chair and dig in.

Robert Bloch's Psycho: Sanitarium - by Chet Williamson

If you've never read Robert Bloch's 1959 novel Psycho, not to worry, Chet Williamson provides an excellent synopsis to get the reader up to speed on the events which precede Psycho: Sanitarium.  The story itself succeeds on many levels.  The depiction of life in the asylum rings true with patients running the gamut from calm to violent and a professional staff of both caring individuals and a few that should be committed themselves.  The tone and pacing of the story matches up well with Robert Bloch's original work.  All of the characters are well developed, and the story features a number of delicious twists, all within the realm of possibility.

The Night Parade - by Ronald Malfi 

It's an amazing feeling when you start a new book by a capable writer. one who gently takes you by the hand and guides you on your journey.  Ronald Malfi is such a writer.

Malfi is a master at giving the reader just enough to draw you into his world and then slowly reveals bits and pieces until it all comes together.  Much like painter creating a work of art by adding layer after layer until the piece is just right.

There is a new plague in the land. Wanderer's Folly, which results in nosebleeds, hallucinations, and ultimately death.

Odd Adventures with Your Other Father - by Norman Prentiss

Odd Adventures with Your Other Father is a genre-bending novel, blending fantasy, horror, and a love story that transcends the ordinary.

Celia, had two fathers, one of them passed away when she was four.  Her Father, Shawn, tells her a series of "odd" stories about her other Father, Jack.

It was so easy to become lost in the story-telling.  Somewhat like sitting around a campfire listening to an experienced counselor tell his best tale and then clamoring for one more before crawling into your sleeping bag for the night.

The Rib from Which I Remake the World - by Ed Kurtz

The Rib from Which I Remake the World  is one of those books which doesn't fit neatly into any category.  Is it Noir? Horror? Psychological Thriller? Occult? The list could go on, but truthfully, what Ed Kurtz's latest is, is a heluva read.

A Road Show comes to town with film to play at the Palace Theatre Motherhood Too Soon. It's scandalous, purporting to show an actual childbirth at the end of the motion picture.

Then there's a mysterious, invitation only, midnight show which accompanies the main feature   This is where Kurtz's tale goes from being a crime story to something more. Before long it warps into something completely metaphysical and becomes an unrelenting nightmare for those still alive.

They Say A Girl Died Here Once - by Sarah Pinborough

Four stages of womanhood stuck together by life, but with nothing in common.

I found They Say a Girl Died Here Once to be quietly disturbing, yet beautifully written, spellbinding, powerful stuff  It's not a "fun" read, but it is a potent story which builds to a pulse-pounding climax.

In my modest opinion They Say a Girl Died Here Once is as close to a perfect horror story as you'll find.

Tijuana Donkey Showdown - by Adam Howe 

No need to get into plot details, they don't really matter, what does matter is that reading Tijuana Donkey Showdown is a chance to kick back and relax with a totally fun read.    It's a story filled with OMG moments, just one outrageous surprise after another.

Make no mistake, Tijuana Donkey Showdown, is certainly for adults and even some of those may find the material offensive, but if that's you and you're looking for something to take your mind off the world we live in.  Look no further.

And now my favorite reads of 2016

American Nocturne - by Hank Schwaeble - Favorite Collection  

There are so many talented writers working in the fields of horror and speculative fiction that I'm constantly discovering authors I've not read before who immediately leave me wanting to read more of their work.  Case in point, Hank Schwaeble.  Prior to being sent a copy of this new collection I'd never even heard of him.  Maybe I just need to get out more or stay in and read more.

Jonathan Maberry, an author I have read and greatly respect, has penned an excellent introduction to Hank Schwaeble in general and specifically to American Nocturne.  In essence, he says Hank is the real deal, and that's good enough for me.

After reading this collection this is one I can seriously recommend.

Wicked Witches - An Anthology of the New England Horror Writers - ed. by Scott Goudsward, David Price, & Daniel Keohane - Favorite Anthology

I found the stories in Wicked Witches to be diverse, engrossing, and totally enjoyable. This may seem like a narrow theme for such a large anthology, but each story had it's own unique vision keeping the collection fresh from start to finish.

Halloween may be past, but good horror can be appreciated all year long.

Odd Man Out - by James Newman - Favorite Novella

It's been a few years since The Boy Scouts of America changed their policy to allow gay members. In Newman's Odd Man Out a conservative Christian Church is struggling with allowing the scouts to continue using their building as a meeting place.

What follows is the story of of what happened during a trial run of the Black Mountain Camp for Boys in the Summer of 1989.

Although the campers in Odd Man Out were wonderfully diverse, there was one in their midst who was decidedly different. Wesley Westmore.

By now, I think you might have a pretty good sense of where Newman's tale is headed. There are monsters in Odd Man Out, but they are not the monsters of fiction.  Here the monsters are real.  Just as real as you and I.

I give Odd Man Out my highest recommendation.

Children of the Dark -  by Jonathan Janz  - Favorite Novel

Children of the Dark is one of the most talked about horror books of 2016.  I just had to see what the fuss was about for myself.  Wow.  This is one time where all of the hype was dead on.

In its heart, this book is cryptid horror at it most effective.  A masterpiece of terror. Tenacious in its pacing, and just when you think things can't get any worse...frying pan, meet fire.

When I was finished reading Children of the Dark I was left feeling emotionally drained.  This is what happens when a reader is fully invested in a story.  It's a sign of great writing and regardless of genre this book is definitely great writing.

Feel free to let me know what books you loved this year in the comments section below


  1. Great list, Frank. I was curious about Psycho: Sanitarium, but it so rarely works when an author steps into another author's world like that. Pleased to hear it works in this case.

    I'm embarrassed to say Children of the Dark slipped entirely beneath my radar, but I like Jonathan Janz, so I'll definitely have to give it a read.

  2. I actually made a point to read Psycho before the new work by Chet for that very reason. I think he pulled it off rather well.

  3. Some interesting and sinister looking books here Frank.