Monday, December 28, 2015

Best Reads of 2015

I spent a lot of time writing this year. I finished Queensboro last winter, wrapped Winter in early August, and cranked out a couple of short stories this fall (my "Cat's Eye" won a contest!). The entire Crow Creek series will be released through Samhain Publishing over the next 13 months (a little shameless self-promotion shall not perish from the Earth).

I also read as much as possible, balancing the classics (I have Elmore Leonard, Jack Ketchum, and Neil Gaiman sitting on the shelf beside me) with contemporary works so I can stay current in my practice. Picking the best books (or the best of anything) is never easy, but I love lists, so I thought I'd throw my two cents into the year-end pot. Here's what I read and what I liked. Thank you to these wonderful authors for sharing their passion. My reviews are general so as not to give away any spoilers. I've cropped some of what I previously posted on Goodreads.

10. Those Who Are Left by Josh Stricklin
I found this through an Amazon recommendation, actually. When you order enough horror novels, they have an algorithm that suits your interests. Clever. This one is fast-paced and intense. Better than the ones Stephen King put his brand name on this year. Maybe this hasn't passed his desk yet. Could be too low-budget for him. It's apocalyptic but funny. The protagonist is endearing. The violence and horror are appropriately surreal. I hope the rest of the series is as much of a thrill ride.

9. Dust of the Dead by John Palisano
I met this fellow Samhain author at the World Horror Conference in Atlanta last spring. He's original and inspiring. I read this twist on the zombie apocalypse in a day. He does a believable job creating a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles without being mundane or cliche. He effectively blends suspense, horror, and dark comedy and leaves you gasping for more. This harrowing odyssey is a must read for all fans of the zombie genre.

8. Shutter by Courtney Alameda
I also met Alameda at the World Horror Conference. She's creative, dedicated to her craft, and brooding. Everything a horror writer should be. This young-adult ghost story is very engaging. It has the perfect blend of fantasy and reality. The descriptions are balanced evenly with the acton. The lead characters are strong and believable. Her ear for dialogue is spot on. It's creepy, cool, and funny at times. My teenage daughter read it in two days.

7. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
Not so much horror/comedy as satirical science fiction, David Wong continues to impress. His vision of the future is thoroughly frightening, especially his commentary on social media and our culture of dehumanization. An exciting and hilarious adventure, Futuristic Violence is stylistically superb. One can only wonder how soon his nightmare world will become all-too real.

6. The Cure by JG Faherty
I shared interview time on Zombiepalooza Radio with this Samhain author. He's intelligent and inspiring. The Cure is one of the scariest novels I've read in a long time. It's also one of the best. Faherty is a master at building characters. The reader can't escape the torture the protagonist endures. This powerful story of love, corruption, redemption, and loss is a mature read. I can't wait for his next.

5. Sarah of the Romani by Tom Calen
Quite different from his Pandemic Sequence, Tom Calen's found his voice in this suspenseful tale of witchcraft and murder. The two brothers crafted as contrasting protagonists are compelling. Calen creates a suspenseful tale of grisly murders while building a mythos that's sure to a launch another powerful horror series.  Part Lovecraft, part King - a novel you won't be able to put down.

4. The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker
One of the true masters of horror returns with the final, long-awaited tale of Pinhead and the Cenobites. This time, protagonist Harry D'Amour goes to hell to rescue his blind best friend. He's well-crafted and memorable. The powerful imagery creates a demonic world of sex and violence as only Barker can create. His writing is beautiful yet horrifying. After Peter Straub, he handles language and commands words better than anyone else in the field.

3. Finders Keepers by Stephen King
This book is vintage King. Brilliant story, amazing character development, and non-stop action. I devoured this book faster than any of his I've read in a long time. Enjoyed it so much more than Revival and Mr. Mercedes. I was happy to see King return to his roots in the final scene with the set up for the next book in the series.

2. Such a Dark Thing by Jess Peacock
An engaging, thoughtful essay about the theology of horror. Drives home the point that in a world created by God, God remains culpable for all things evil. Includes an excellent annotated bibliography that covers the best of vampires in pop culture. The writing is so brilliant and intellectual that I felt like I was captivated by a favorite college professor. Peacock takes his writing and his themes seriously. He's a committed and inspiring author.

1. Strange Animals by Chad Kultgen
I've enjoyed all five of Chad Kultgen's novels. He's my favorite author right now (and also the world's greatest squirrel photographer). This book cuts right to the heart of the pro-choice/pro-life debate by exposing the radical Christian right for what they are - corporate machines aimed at controlling women and denying freedom to all those with different ideologies. The narrative alternates seamlessly between the two main characters and builds momentum until their final confrontation. This book will haunt you. As always, Kultgen's work is aggressive and genuine.


  1. Thrilled to be mentioned on your list, Thomas. Thanks so much for reading something of mine.

    1. Well-deserved, John. Looking forward to your next one.