I finally came up with my lists. Yes, lists. A list of best books that included novels and collections/anthologies would've been too long, so I made two of them. There are 14 novels and five collections/anthologies. I read almost 200 books this year, so coming up with just 10 tomes was impossible. Even with 14 novels on the list, many very good books were left out. Some of these I reviewed here, some I reviewed elsewhere, some will be reviewed soon, and some I never reviewed at all. They are in no particular order, but those in the first few spots are there for a reason. Also, not all of these great books were published in 2012, but that really matters zilch to me. In any case, here they are.
Best novels of 2012:
14. Die, You Bastard! Die! Written by Jan Kozlowski
Kozlowski's prose is fast and sharp. This story of revenge had enough bloodshed and sex to keep me satisfied and a touch of dark, crippling psychological horror that left me wanting more of Kozlowski's work.
13. All You Can Eat Written by Shane McKenzie
If you were reading horror in 2012, you know McKenzie exploded this year. If Deadite Press hadn't published this All You Can Eat, McKenzie would still be on the list for the rotten-meat-and-maggot fest that was Infinity House. When it comes to hardcore horror, McKenzie went from being the new kid on the block to one of the top voices in the genre. Expect great things from him in 2013.
Since we're talking about the big boys of horror, now's a good time to talk about Lee Thomas. No genre author out there has the combination of talent, elegance, depth, and economy of language that Thomas brings to the table. Torn is fun and bloody, but Thomas' kinetic prose is what put it on this list.
The fact that Gifune managed to make aliens spooky again with this tale of loss is more than enough to make one of the top reads of the year. I read more of his work, and probably all of it deserves as spot on this list.
This is like a concentrated version of everything that's great about White. Social commentary, unique gore, tension, voodoo, suffering, death, madness, sex: it's all here and there's plenty of it. It also packs a noir-ish feel and a great love story. The Killings, which he co-wrote with J.F. Gonzalez, would take this spot if Sacrifice hadn't been published.
Prunty always reminds me why I fell in love with horror: it's fun to read! Satanic Summer is hilarious, smart, bizarre, and truly distinctive. From the bizarro touch of punishment through wrestling to bloody orgies in a church with Satan, Prunty stuffed this one with all the good elements that make him one of those authors that always surprises and entertains.
Very few writers have what it takes to make a haunted house story feel completely new to me. Ranalli is one of those few. This one is dark and very well constructed. The characters are multidimensional and the story carries itself with grace and plenty of creepy moments. The crows with baby hands instead of feet are a great bonus.
Very short, very creepy, very gory. This is something like The Human Centipede on steroids. A small, powerful gem.
5. Spare Key Written by R. Frederick Hamilton
The stories here made me feel uncomfortable, and that only happens about twice a year. Hamilton can make an empty room seem like a very nuanced nightmare. This author writes pure, cerebral horror and he's very good at what he does. Since the book's main attraction is a novella, I put it here. I look forward to reading everything Hamilton has published in 2013.
4. Genital Grinder Written by Ryan Harding
When I started listening to guys that could really shred on the guitar, all my musician friends told me shredding was just technique devoid of emotion. I couldn't have cared less: serious shredders were ridiculously fast and the only people in the world who could do what they do. Harding's work is like that: something so extreme that most folks feel the need to critique it. Screw those people: this is well-written, funny, nasty, extreme horror that can make regular people vomit. I loved it. Although it contains several stories, they all take place in the same town and some have the same characters, so I counted this one as a novel.
A novel by a female Cenobite that gives the world a smart, artistic, cynical, cultured serial killer who could give Hannibal Lecter a run for his money. On top of that, this is a poignant, funny, sexually-charged, hardcore critique of popular culture and a deconstruction of relationships, academia, and art.
I devoured Haunt. It's impeccably constructed and matchless in contemporary literature. Bahr wrote a bizarro novel that's a noir...and a ghost story, a love story, an adventure, and the trip of a lifetime. Watching Bahr win the Wonderland Book Award for this novel was one of the best literary (non-reading) moments of the year.
Scott is that author I think deserves to be bigger than James Patterson and somehow I seldom come across his name in “best of the year” lists. Asbury Park was the second novel in the Sailor Doyle series and it's just as good, if not better, than the first one, 15 Miles. This is a supernatural thriller with elements of horror thrown in but written with the clear-cut, powerful prose of a great neo-noir narrative. Sometimes heartwarming, sometimes spooky, sometimes hilarious and sometimes exciting, this one was one of those novels that I was truly sad to finish simply because I wanted to spend more time inside its pages.
Best collections/anthologies of 2012:
5. D.O.A Extreme Horror Anthology Edited by Jack Burton and David C. Hayes
If you're going to put extreme horror in your title, you better live up to it, and this tome did. A mix of stories from new voices and established names in the genre made this one an enjoyable, diverse collection.
4. The Book of Cthulhu II Edited by Ross E. Lockhart
I read about five Lovecraftian anthos in 2012. The Book of Cthulhu (published in 2011) was one of the best for many reasons. As they year came to a close, I started reading The Book of Cthulhu II. It's as good as the first. Even though I haven't finished it, here are a few reasons why it deserves a spot on this list: W.H. Pugmire, Laird Barron, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Reynaga (he read his story at BizarroCon and it was amazing), Michael Chabon and Cody Goodfellow.
3. All-Monster Action! Written by Cody Goodfellow
Is it bizarro? Is it horror? Is it "literary" writing taken to a place it's never been to before? I guess it's all of the above. What I do know for sure is that it's a superb, entertaining collection of short stories by one of the most talented authors out there.
1. We Live Inside You Written by Jeremy Robert Johnson
Yes, both are #1. One couldn't be better than the other because they're very different beasts.
Little Deaths is a treat for fans of horror. Taff's prose is tight but malleable, changing its nature to adapt to every story. The diversity of the collection is outstanding, the writing is the kind that gets nods for the Stoker, and all the elements of horror fiction are there in spades. The Mellified Man was one of the best short stories I read this year and this collection ensured that I will be getting my hands on anything Taff publishes the second it comes out. When it comes to superb short horror stories, this tome stuck with me and I'll surely go back to it at some point in 2013.
We Live Inside You made me hate Jeremy Robert Johnson. Passionately. He can write horror, science fiction, crime, and bizarro. Sometimes he does all of the above within the same stories. He's at once brutal and elegant, innovative and an immediate classic, ridiculously talented and an obvious perfectionist. The same night I watched Bahr win the Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel, I watched Johnson get the Best Collection award for this. He deserved it.
There you have it, folks. I enjoyed many other great novels, but not many people would read a list of 40 books, so I kept it short and sweet. Now I go back to reading: I shall shatter the 200-book mark this year. Happy reading.
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Gabino lives in Austin, Texas, where he reads an inordinate amount of books and pens down reviews only for the big bucks he makes doing so. When he was about 12, his mother would tell him that reading all the H.P. Lovecraft and Poe would not lead to anything good. Being on the staff page at HorrorTalk is the confirmation of that.