Hicks Picks The Top 10% of 2018
Compiling a Top 10 for 2018 was simply too damn difficult for me, so I fudged the numbers a bit and made this a Top 14. I read nearly 140 books over the course of 2018, so if you're a stickler for Top 10 lists and don't like my cheating, then just consider this the Top 10% of what I've read! This year was very, very good for this particular horror buff and I was fortunate to find a lot of exceptional reads over the course of the year. As I was writing this list, my brain kept fighting me and going "yeah, but what about this one? And, oh God, that one - you can’t forget to include that one!" and all I could do, finally, was surrender, thinking, "yeah, that should definitely be on the list. And that one, too. And yeah, for sure that one. Definitely!" Trying to figure out which titles to remove in order to satisfy an arbitrary number for a socially constructed Top 10 list was like trying to pick which side of the head I'd prefer to be shot on. Most days, I really don't want to be shot in the head, and as I was making this list I found that I really did not want to remove some particular titles. So, here we go...my Top 14, or if you prefer my Top 10%, of 2018. I’ve included brief snippets of commentary for each, but if you wish to seek out my full reviews, head over to my Goodreads page for those.
I read this one at the tail end of December, and I’m kicking myself for not having read it sooner. This book isn't just straight up my alley, it's damn near pulled right from my cerebral cortex. Here's some reasons I dug this book: Women biker gangs. A prison planet. Cannibals. Political injustice. Issues of bodily autonomy. Diversity and representation. Daughters of Forgotten Light is a science fiction Women in Prison/Biker Gangs grindhouse flick set to prose, and I dug the hell out of it! I’ll be posting my full review for this book in the coming days. And while we’re on the subject of grindhouse books…
Hunt filters Cockblock through a grindhouse aesthetic (appropriate, as the publisher of Cockblock is Grindhouse Press), drawing upon not only traditional zombie fare but various exploitative film genres as rape and revenge, women in prison, and sexploitation flicks. It's a bit of Caligula, a bit of I Spit On Your Grave, a bit of Roger Corman, and way too fucking much of Trump's America. Hunt's protagonists take their fight straight to the streets and all the way to the top with an angry, energetic fervor that makes Cockblock one of the most surprisingly patriotic splatterpunk reads I've come across, with one of the most satisfying finales I've read in some time. This book is a drop-kick straight to Trump's nutsack, and I fucking loved it. This book gets all the stars, and a few extra stripes of red, white, and blue to go with them.
Stranded is a fun, quick read, the kind of pulpy entertainment that’s right up my alley and hits all my sweet spots. It’s got blood-drenched snow, a terrible climate for its characters to endure or succumb to, and a nifty creature to boot. Renee Miller has crafted a brutal tale of monsters and madness, one that will make your blood run cold. Perfect for fans of The Thing, Stranded is arctic terror at its chillingly scary best.
In terms of sheer entertainment value alone Scapegoat is a hard one to beat with its utterly delightful backwoods detour through the three Rs of Southern-friend horror: Rednecks, revenge, and Wrestlemania! One of 2018's most entertaining reads.
Laird Barron has crafted a terrific new character in the form of Isiah Coleridge, and half-way through Blood Standard I found myself already jonesing for the next book. I'm excited by the prospect of Coleridge's new life and focus, and I'm dying to see what future odysseys ensnare and disrupt him. This is a character that has plenty of legs for a series, and lots of layers left to mine in subsequent entries.
While Obscura is a thrilling read, Hart infuses plenty of creepiness throughout, injecting some welcome elements of horror that will keep readers guessing. There are a few memorable scenes, and characters, etched into my mind thanks to Hart's vivid descriptions and scenarios that packed a lovely bit of wow factor. The story itself is what truly grabbed me, though - murders aboard a space station, drug addiction, and whole lotta paranoia - all perfectly paced and flawlessly executed. I absolutely had to know what was happening, and what was going to happen next.
The Switch House is slim in pages, but filled to the brim with concepts and ideas. Meyer pulls in cosmic horror, psychological horror, chaotic and frightening depictions of hell, plenty of paranoia, and bucketfuls of bloody mayhem. It's a rare thing indeed when I finish a book's prologue and already find myself questioning whatever life choices I've made that I'm only just now discovering Tim fucking Meyer.
Shea is more widely known for his fun, gloriously violent, B-movie inspired creature feature romps. Creature is a bit of a departure from stories like Megalodon in Paradise or Jurassic, Florida, but readers who came to Shea by way of We Are Always Watching will have a grand idea of what to expect here. This isn't a mile a minute gorefest, but it packs in a number of scares that are absolute powerhouses thanks to their authenticity and realism. Creature is a slower, characters-first work of horror, but make no mistake, Shea certainly delivers on the horror and in a number of particularly gut-churning, all too-human ways.
It's clear why Flame Tree Press chose The Siren and The Specter as one of their launch titles, and it's a delicious springboard into this new imprint. While there are plenty of Gothic traditions on display here - the fallen hero, death and romance, loss and terror, an emphasis on sexuality, dashes of political violence, an atmosphere of dread, a focus on the architecture of the Alexander House - in the end, it's this broadening of imagination that proves most fascinating and compelling. This is a big win for horror fans, and even when you know certain macabre acts are just a page away, he still manages to pull off a few surprises in each of the big reveals.
The Nightmare Room was a gripping read, and really impressed the hell out of me! I finished this book in two days, a genuine rarity for me these days given all the constraints on my time and limited hours I have for reading anymore. Once I sank into this book, though, I made the time and got sucked into it rather deeply and Sorensen is officially on my list of authors to watch out for.
Halcyon is packed with suspense, tragedy, several moments guaranteed to ramp up your blood pressure, and plenty of horror from both the supernatural kind and the all too-real world around us. I cannot recommend it enough. Youers perfectly balances moments of soul-crushing despair with uplifting hope, reminding us that even in our darkest moments there's still some light to be found if only we look hard enough.
The Outsider is a pure shot of adrenalized King straight to the heart. It's powerful and gripping, and a whole lot of damn fun, and it sucked me in deep enough that I was positively living this book the whole time it took me to read it. After more than 50 published novels to his credit, there's little reason for The Outsider to be as good as it is, and yet it's not just good - it's one of King's best. Not just one of his best in years, mind you, but one of his best period. This is the Master of Horror doing what he does best - giving us convincing characters alongside a larger-than-life horror, and scaring the hell out of us along the way.
The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky is a smart and deeply layered novella, and its depth routinely belies its page count. This is a lushly literary narrative, one that is first and foremost a character study of political exiles, and Jacobs's authorial skills are tack sharp. Highly recommended.
2018 Book of the Year
This book is raw and honest, and written so smoothly the pages turn themselves. Iglesias has plenty to say, and when he throws a punch, always properly justified here, it lands hard. There's a balletic grace to the violence, a poetic refinement to the writing, and a constant truth that sounds throughout. Coyote Songs is a book of and for our times, its author a vital voice we would do well to pay attention to.