Best of 2019 Dead Head Reads

Below are a few Dead Heads’ best of list. Not all lists contain books published in 2019.

My name is Jason. I read 131 books this year, and these were my ten favorites. Ranked too…because I like headaches and indecision apparently.

10:  The Best of the Scream Factory. This is a reference book from Cemetery Dance pub.  A must have for anyone obsessed with horror fiction.

9:  In the Scrape by James Newman and Mark Steensland. Quality coming-of-age story told in only 104 pages.

8:  The Pale White by Chad Lutzke. If Chad doesn’t make my top ten in a given year, it’s probably because he didn’t publish anything.

7:  Some Kind of Hero by James Kirkwood. Really unique, character-driven war novel.

6:  The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. Not horror, but great books transcend genre.

5:  Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah. Yep, her again. Don’t hate.

4:  They Say a Girl Died Here Once by Sarah Pinborough. My current favorite writer.

3:  Rotters by Daniel Kraus. Totally unique coming-of-age story about grave robbing.

2:  The Murder of Jesus Christ by John R Little. Possibly the best book from one of my favorite writers.

* drum roll *

1:  Penpal by Dathan Auerbach. I know, I know. This was published in 2012, so I’m late to the party. In any case, this may actually be the creepiest book I’ve ever read.  Auerbach is so good at creating dread and paranoia that I put the book down a few times just to savor it. Maybe this one isn’t for everyone, but I do think that every horror fiction fan should give it a shot. Just in case.

Happy 2020 everyone! 

Best of by Jason Cavallaro
jcavallaro42@gmail.com
Twitter:  @pinheadspawn

***

In 2019, I set a goal to read 25 books and surpassed that goal for 35+! I enjoyed all but 4 of those 35 books immensely. Here are 10 of my favorite reads from this year in no particular order:

  1. We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Horror/Fiction)
    Now a Netflix original, this classic is narrated by the character Merricat. Detailing her reclusive life with her sister Constance, eccentric Uncle Julian, and cousin Charles, and the aftermath of a family tragedy 6 years prior.
  1. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (Fiction) *Content Warning
    A dark, mysterious novel centering around a Nigerian named The Ada, centered around “The self-search”, dysphoria, and mental illness; narrated by multiple perspectives of spirits/voices residing in The Ada’s body.
  1. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Science Fiction)
    The first in a series of Sci-Fi Novellas centering on the heroine Binti, 1st of the Himba people to study at Oomza University, as she finds her place in life and the universe.
  1. I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (Horror/Fiction)
    A suspense-thriller from the perspective of an unnamed narrator and their boyfriend Jake.  Following along as the couple drives through a snowstorm on the way to an uncomfortable dinner with the narrator’s family and mystery unfolds. Coming soon to Netflix.
  1. The Laws of the Skies by Gregoire Courtois (Horror/Fiction) *Content Warnin
    “Lord of the Flies” meets “Battle Royale” in this tale following the harrowing camping trip of a Kindergarten class. Yes, you read that right.
  1. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski (Thriller/Fiction) *Content Warning
    Honestly, this book has such a presence in the Literary Community I don’t feel right trying to give it a one sentence summary so I’ll only say this: Minotaur. Soon to be a television series (maybe.)
  1. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (Horror/Fiction)
    Follows an American Family as they put their lives on display for reality TV.  Told from the perspective of younger sister Merry as she chronicles the stress of living through some harrowing, strained family dynamic surrounding her mentally ill sister Marjorie. Reminiscent of classic films such as  The Exorcist.
  1. The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Drama/Fiction) *Content Warning
    An English language translation of South Korean novellas following the lives of sisters Yeong-Hye and In-Hye and exploring concepts of life as a woman in SK, personal autonomy, and the dark side of human nature.
  1. Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha (Romance/Science Fiction) Adults Only
    This dystopian Sci-Fi Romance, penned by a BFF-Author-Duo known as the singular “Kit Rocha”, is raunchy, dirty, pervy, and clever. A hard, very hard no pun intended, M for Mature on sexual content. #okaneforlife
  1. Conscious Creativity by Philippa Stanton (Non-Fiction/Creativity)
    A beautiful collection of anecdotes, exercises, and imagery to help foster your personal art/craft, and foster a desire to employ creative practices in daily life.

*Content Warning: stories contain extreme sexual content, violence, abuse, assault, rape, and/or drug use.

Best of by Ellen Angiliano
thejackalopeswarren@gmail.com
Twitter: @thejackalopes.warren

***

2019 we barely knew ye, and yet the bell tolls for thee. Alan Baxter dished up his collection Served Cold, and took me to places far and near with one thing in common – they’re places I love to read about but I wouldn’t want to visit. Laurel Hightower made the dead come to life with her stand-out debut, Whispers in the Dark. With only one novel under her belt, she has become an absolute favorite author. Mark Steensland and James Newman brought me Into the Scrape, collaborating on an intense and unforgettable coming-of-age story. This is a book that I had no problem putting up alongside classics such as McCammon’s Boy’s Life

Chad Lutzke broke my heart with The Pale White, and then did his able best to put the pieces back together. This is a gorgeously presented female coming-of-age story, something I expect we’ll be seeing more of within the genre. John F.D. Taff filled my reading life with all the things that go bump in the night, all at once. The Fearing might be the most ambitious thing I read this year, and it consistently fired on all cylinders. 

Chuck Wendig’s epic novel Wanderers engrossed me for every bit of its 800 page running time. It’s a very timely book that despite its length deserves, and will certainly get, reread. Dear Laura, by Gemma Amor, was a treat of a novella that invested me in the lead character’s journey from childhood all the way through to her adult years. Everything she went through dug it’s claws deep into my psyche and left me raw after putting it down. 

Stephanie Evelyn’s debut novel The Cult Called Freedom House kicked off Sophia Rey’s story with an enthusiastic bang. Another debut novel that simply clicks because the author poured heart and soul aplenty into it. The stories I found inside Kealan Patrick Burke’s We Live Inside Your Eyes are generally bleak and dreadful. The prose Burke used brought them to life, and the novella with which it culminated is worth the price of admission. This list would be utterly incomplete without remembering John Boden’s Walk the Darkness Down and the way it used the western genre, mixed it with horror, and told us a story that could not have possibly have grown in the imagination of any other author. 2019 was a year of discovery for me, and all signs points toward 2020 being a showcase for all the bright and shining stars this genre has to offer. 

Best of by Brennan LaFaro
brennan.lafaro@gmail.com
Twitter: @whathappensnex5Blog

***

The Festering Ones

Will Haunt You

We Live Inside Your Eyes

Inspection

The Same Deep Water As You

Best of by Garrett Witt
garrettwitt7@gmail.com
Twitter: @reviewshead

***

In 2019, I found or re-discovered five books that I still think about on an almost daily basis. Not all of them are horror, but each offers something unique that you don’t encounter everyday!

The Changeling – Victor LaValle

I’ve recommended this book to everyone I can since I put it down in the early Spring. It’s so hard to summarize this book, because it seems to actively defy summation. At its most basic, the story is about Apollo as his life unravels after his wife Emma commits a horrific, violent act and vanishes. The book reads like a fairy tale mixed with memory with horror elements.

Horrorstor – Grady Hendrix

A horror comedy novel about a haunted Ikea knockoff store, what’s not to love? Amy is stuck in a dead-end job at ORSK, and her gung-ho manager Basil has her and another employee spend the night in the store. Such a simple premise, but things quickly escalate. I highly recommend reading a physical copy of this, as it looks like an Ikea catalog complete with illustrations that add to the humor.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service – Eiji Otsuka (Writer), Housui Yamazaki (Illustrator)

This manga series is, at its core, a story of millennials who are educated and underemployed. Oh, and they also happen to have talents that make them especially skilled when dealing with corpses. The artwork is incredible and often grotesque, and the setting is contemporary Japan, which means that the characters are interacting with issues that plague real people. College admission stress, grief, infanticide, surgery to look more perfect, and more.

The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison

I had initially read this in high school, but when Toni Morrison passed away this year, I picked it up again. It’s not an easy read, but then again that’s why I’m putting it on this list. This was her first novel, published at age 39. The focus is on the realities of African-American life during the 1940s, external and internalized racism, violence, and so many other topics. The title comes from the main character, Pecola, and her wish for blue eyes like the white dolls she received as gifts.

Our Dreams at Dusk – Yuhki Kamatani (Writer/Illustrator, They/Them)

This may be the first manga I’ve ever encountered where a trans person is writing and illustrating from their own experiences. Kamatani is asexual and X-gendered, and you see that perspective reflected throughout this four volume series. The story starts with a teenager involuntarily outed at school, and then introduces other LGBT+ characters at varying stages of their lives. It’s simply incredible, and I cried a lot.

I sincerely hope that you will give these books a read!

As for my 2020 goals, I want to continue finding new authors and diversifying my bookshelf in order to find new works to open my eyes to different perspectives in the world around me.

Best of by Regina Caldart
regina.caldart@gmail.com
Twitter: @IgnatiaStrigha

***

I have read some amazing books this year, and narrowing it down to favourites is really hard. Even if I just stuck to horror, I’d still find it difficult. For my personal blog, I broke it down month by month and it didn’t really make it any easier.

Still, there are a few that stand above the rest. We’ll start outside horror. I read a variety of different genres, but most of what I read still contains some elements of horror because I just like dark stuff. The first few books here are popular YA fantasy’s, but ones I loved, and that have elements I think most horror fans would appreciate.

Published this year, The Queen of Nothing, the conclusion to Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy, proves fairies aren’t all sparkles and sunshine. I mean, Tinkerbell could get dark at times trying to kill Wendy after all, but Black really draws on the beauty and horror of fairies to show how cruel they really can be.

Spin the Dawn also deserves a mention, the non-Disney debut from Elizabeth Lim. A retelling of Mulan, one that uses mythology to really up the darkness in this world. I am super excited for the next installment, and this is one well worth a read.

Sticking with fantasy-with-a-dash-of-horror, A Curse So Dark and Lonely, released January 2019, is a fantastic reimagining of Beauty and the Beast, with some very dark moments, and plenty of tension to keep you turning the page. This book sang to both the fantasy and horror fan in me.

On the horror side, I have to admit, Black Rainbow is an anthology I cannot stop thinking about. It’s LGBT horror that is guaranteed to have your skin crawling, have you gasping and crying and laughing and really, you can’t ask for more from an anthology.

And, lastly, two novellas from two absolutely fantastic horror writers. Dear Laura by Gemma Amor, a psychological horror that carries the reader through twists and turns, really drawing you in as Laura tries to unravel what is happening and has happened to her.

Finally, The Festering Ones by S.H. Cooper, a story of loss, love, and returning home, set against a backdrop of monsters and cults and evil gods. The only problem I had with this novel is that I wanted more. I wanted to follow more of Faith’s story.  

These six books are ones I definitely recommend, ones which, for me, really stand head and shoulders above other new release I read this year. But of course, there are a couple that deserve a mention even if they weren’t at the very top.

Other favourites: Grind Your Bones to Dust (Nicholas Day), Midnight in the Graveyard anthology, The Wicked King (Holly Black), On the Come Up (Angie Thomas), The Doll Factory (Elizabeth Macneal).

Best of by Elle Turpitt
elleturpitt@gmail.com
Twitter: @elleturpitt

***

2019 will forever be the year I found horror again. I found so many new authors to love, subgenres to splash in, and series to collect. The books on this list aren’t inclusive of everything I loved – some of them I’ve chosen specifically because you may not have read them, and I think you should! I’m terrible at rating, because although I can assign star ratings, what makes one book a 5 is different from what makes another book the same. So I’m going to assign “best of” categories of my own creation. Here goes!

Best and most inventive possession story: The Possession of Natalie Glasgow – Hailey Piper

Best folk horror with wicked cool cosmic elements and kickass female cast: The Festering Ones – S.H. Cooper

Best novella with absolutely everything a horror fan could want: Forest Underground Lydian Faust

Best twist on the zombie genre: Night of the Loving Dead – Elle Turpitt

Most heartbreaking and simultaneously terrifying: Remains – Andrew Cull

Best depiction of brujeria, seamless weaving of timelines, and absolute jaw dropping endings: Cricket Hunters – Jeremy Hepler (also mentioned for best distraction for my toddler – he loves counting the crickets).

Best collection with a first story I’m still thinking about: Little Paranoias – Sonora Taylor

Best combination of magic, humanity, and terrifying forces outside our control: Zero Saints – Gabino Iglasis

Novel I can’t recommend enough, but that I really can’t talk about because of spoilers: Inspection – Josh Malerman (but go read it and then we can send cryptic emojis to each other!)

Best vampire story: Maria the Wanted – V. Castro (seriously Louis and Lestat, suck it.)

Novella that totally stole my afternoon the day it arrived: Dear Laura – Gemma Amor

Best cover, creepiest flashback, and flat out grossest scene: The Cult Called Freedom House – Stephanie Evelyn

Best dystopian, with best developed characters that just made me go, yeah, he gets it: Ration – Cody Luff

Best meta-horror, that also treats writers with love and respect: The Dark Game – Jonathan Janz

Best book with all the feels, that I was really stupid to read right before bed: Creature – Hunter Shea

Best anthology that everyone should read: Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas! – edited by Angel Luis Colon

Best apocalyptic heartbreaker: The Fearing – John F.D. Taff

Best horror with basically a one-woman show and made me even more scared of caves: The Luminous Dead – Caitlyn Starling

Book that made me want to be a better writer: Grind Your Bones to Dust – Nicholas Day

Bonus category: Best book I read that isn’t horror: Songbirds and Stray Dogs – Megan Luca.

Best of by Laurel Hightower
l.hightowerwells@gmail.com

Twitter: @hightowerlaurel

***

I’m the new kid on the block. It felt like a great year to enter the scene. Here’s my top five.

1) The Old One and The Sea – Lex H Jones

This story is perfect. The length, the illustrations, the originality, the style, the cadence, the prose, just everything. It’s a story that reimagined a young Howard Philips Lovecraft’s childhood – the why and how he became a writer and meeting Cthulhu. It’s a children’s Lovecraft book. It’s for children. It’s for adults. It’s just a fun and touching book that honors the roots of Lovecraft’s mythos, while adding its own touches to the canon.

2) Remains – Andrew Cull – Remains

This one was filled with poetry in every page. It’s a great example of show not tell. Ghost stories can be hit and miss for me, but I’d be damned if you read this and didn’t find yourself sucked in. It told a complete story. One that left me both satisfied and in search of what “really” happened. It certainly makes for a fun topic of debate with fellow readers.

3) A Cosmology of Monsters – Shaun Hamill

This one feels like a classic novel that you’d be assigned in high school (the good kind that you actually enjoyed reading). This is Hamill’s debut novel, but you’d never know it. His execution, his ability to weave so many layers of a family throughout the course of fifty years. It’s impressive, to say the least. This is another story that is directly influenced by Lovecraft’s mythos, only, it’s presented more so as lurking background component. What better way to honor Lovecraft than to represent his voice through growing madness of monsters and a forbidden city? Even if you don’t like Lovecraft, you’ll love Cosmology.

4) My Dead and Blackened Heart – Andrew Freudenberg

Freudenberg’s first collection is damn good. He branches out into so many different subgenres of horror with ease that going from one story to another is a smooth transition. From dark sci-fi, military, the ghost story, splatterpunk, and so much more. The two splatterpunk stories can compete with anything out there.

5) Growing Things and Other Stories – Paul Tremblay

What can anyone say about Tremblay that hasn’t already been said? The tales in here are full of his trademark ominous story – one feeling like it’s self-commentary on just that. One story that I particularly enjoyed was Something About Birds. It is without a doubt, everything a weird story should be.

Non-book mention: Jonathan Maeberry’s resurrection of Weird Tales magazine. I really enjoyed the first issue of the series and I hope they continue to push out top-notch strange and weird tales.

Best of by Patrick R. McDonough
Patzilla13@hotmail.com
Twitter: @prmcdonough

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