MY TOP 15 READS OF THE YEAR

Yesterday I posted my Top Ten Discoveries Of  2011 , as a follow up here is my top 15 reads of the year.  I’m going to do a top 15, because this has been a bumper year for in my opinion great reads, and I really can’t pin it down to a top 10.

I’m now entering what I like to call the 10 days of hell at work.  No more nights off until the 23rd, because of this I’m going add the books on a daily basis, the number of books posted will depend on how tired I am.  The books are going to be posted in no particular order.  
So here we go.  If you click on the titles you can read my original reviews 

IT KNOWS WHERE YOU LIVE… Imagine a place where all your nightmares become real. Dark urban streets where crime, debt and violence are not the only things to fear. Picture a housing project that is a gateway to somewhere else; a realm where ghosts and monsters stir hungrily in the shadows. Welcome to the Concrete Grove. This deprived area is Hailey’s new home, but when an ancient entity notices her, it becomes something much more threatening. She is the only one who can help her mother as she joins in a dangerous dance with loan-shark Monty Bright. Only Hailey can see the truth of Tom’s darkest desires as he tries to become part of their family. And only Hailey can lead them all to the heart of the estate where something older than this land stirs and begins to wake…



The Concrete Grove was a revelation, a dark gritty,  multi- threaded story.  Ancient magic is seeping into our world, and this is the story about how it effects the residents of The Grove.  Gary is fast become the master of gritty urban horror, this novel doesn’t pull any punches, it is intense, unrelenting, dark, yet the strangely;y uplifting ending will bring a wry smile to your face. 


As a Cambridge College celebrates a midwinter feast, four uninvited strangers uncover a devastating secret. A secret that must never be revealed…for the love of humanity.
Andy Hughes – a man with a dark past and an even darker future. His search for a missing student will lead him to a confrontation with an evil beyond human imagining…
Rob Benson – a van driver who discovers a dead wild boar in the back of his Transit. A boar that just won’t stay dead…
Jennifer Callaby – Andy’s estranged girlfriend, who discovers the shocking truth of The Caretakers – and the sacred task that they perform…
Jason Franklin – a prisoner who holds the key to the fates of them all, and may well be their only salvation – if he doesn’t destroy them first…
A disturbing thriller that questions the nature of evil and the price to be paid for the continued survival of the human race – a price that for some is too great to pay…


The Caretkers follows a similar theme to that of The Concrete Grove, in that ancient wild magic is seeping back into our world.  This time the epicentre is a Cambridge College, a college with a dark past, ancient rituals, and deadly dues that need to be paid.  This is a gripping tale, that expertly weaves questions of morality and duty into a gripping narrative



Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is working as muscle when a Memphis DJ hires him to find Ramblin’ John Hastur. The mysterious blues man’s dark, driving music – broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station – is said to make living men insane and dead men rise. Disturbed and enraged by the bootleg recording the DJ plays for him, Ingram follows Hastur’s trail into the strange, uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas, where he hears rumors the musician has sold his soul to the Devil. But as Ingram closes in on Hastur and those who have crossed his path, he’ll learn there are forces much more malevolent than the Devil and reckonings more painful than Hell… In a masterful debut of Lovecraftian horror and Southern gothic menace, John Hornor Jacobs reveals the fragility of free will, the dangerous power of sacrifice, and the insidious strength of blood
My two great passions in life, apart from my family of course are reading and music. Southern Gods is a brilliant début  that mixes both of these expertly.  The hunt for a missing blues player leads to a terrifying   encounter with creatures from the beyond. John is a name everyone should become familiar with.  

A chambermaid’s seemingly innocent request is granted, an act of kindness that has dire consequences for a guest… An unearthly light in an abandoned bungalow resolves the mystery of a missing child… An invitation to a clifftop graveyard leads to a harrowing chase by things that remain unseen… In an abandoned hotel, work is underway to upgrade the building but something is stalking the workers…

There is a hidden agenda to paranormal researcher Richard Nakata’s investigations into these houses. A commission that witnesses cattle lowing in the cowsheds of Stacks Farm long after they’ve been slaughtered, and a reckoning in the showhouse of 24 Glasshouse, as he and his colleagues pay the price for creating their own ghost…
Simon Kurt Unsworth reinvents the classic English ghost story with a portmanteau collection that takes the haunted house genre and makes it scream…quietly.
Because the most terrifying screams are the silent ones.

This is a fantastic collection of short stories linked together to form one complete story.  The breadth and scope of these stories are brilliant, and your are drawn completely into the story of Nakata.  The opening story The Elms Morecambe, is a deeply moving tale, that sets the the benchmark for this anthology. 
5.  Spectral Press’s Chapbook Series 

 

Right it’s my blog and I’m going to cheat a little bit with this entry.  Simon Marshall Jones has collected some of the finest authors working today, to create his exquisite limited chapbook imprint.  The Chapbooks themselves are a thing of beauty, you can tell they have been put together with a man who is both passionate about the genre, and my a man who wants to give the reader value for money.  Sadly the first four books are out of print, but you can still buy a subscription by following this link. 
As for the stories themselves, the authors  have done themselves proud, these are thoughtful, intelligent and satisfyingly great reads.  You’ll also notice some familiar names there, it’s no coincidence that some of them appear in this in another entry. 


When John Simpson hears of a bizarre animal attack in his old home town of High Moor, it stirs memories of a long forgotten horror. John knows the truth. A werewolf stalks town once more, and on the night of the next full moon, the killing will begin again. He should know. He survived a werewolf attack in 1986, during the worst year of his life.

It’s 1986 and the town is gripped in terror after the mutilated corpse of a young boy is found in the woods. When Sergeant Steven Wilkinson begins an investigation, with the help of a specialist hunter, he soon realises that this is no ordinary animal attack. Werewolves are real, and the trail of bodies is just beginning, with young John and his friends smack in the middle of it.

Twenty years later, John returns to High Moor. The latest attack involved one of his childhood enemies, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. The consequences of his past actions, the reappearance of an old flame and a dying man who will either save or damn him, are the least of his problems. The night of the full moon is approaching and time is running out.

But how can he hope to stop a werewolf, when every full moon he transforms into a bloodthirsty monster himself?

This is a werewolf novel with bite.  A fast pace thrill ride that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat.  Great, great fun 
Daniel Cole wants the world to end.
Returned home from the Great War, his parents and brother in 
their graves, Daniel walks a ghost world. When players in a theatre show 
lure Daniel and his friends, fellow soldiers, into a surreal otherworld 
they find themselves trapped on an apocalyptic path. A pirate ship 
waits to ferry some of them to the end of the world, helmed by Death.
Already broken by war, these men are now the world’s only hope in 
the greatest battle of all

This is the sort of book that makes me wish my grasp of the English language was a hell of a lot firmer.  The is an amazingly evocative thought provoking novella, that demands the readers attention.  The pay off for the reader is a truly amazing piece of writing 

Michael struggles to come to terms with the death of his wife. He has visions of her calling to him, inviting him to the beyond.

At the Bereaved Partners’ Group, he learns that he is not the only one left behind who can hear the departed beckon them… to the Mill.

This Greyhart Press eBook is a novelette: longer than a short story but brief enough to read in one sitting. At 16,000 words, The Mill would be about 64 pages in paperback.

‘The Mill’ was previously published by Pendragon Press as part of the anthology ‘We Fade to Grey’, edited by Gary McMahon. This Greyhart Press eBook edition has been revised but remains substantially the same. Paperbacks, and signed limited-edition hardbacks, of ‘We Fade to Grey’ may still be available.

If your looking for a gut wrenching emotional tale, with a slight supernatural twist, then look no further than this novelette from Mark West.  If you fail to be moved by this story then you must have a heart of stone.


SYNOPSIS:

Short stories are the lifeblood of the horror genre. I grew up reading the Pan and Fontana books of horror and ghost stories, the Armada books of ghost, monster and SF stories, numerous anthologies edited by the prolific Peter Haining, John Burke’s wonderful Tales of Unease collections, and many more. I still adore unearthing obscure anthologies, particularly if they contain unread stories by favourite authors. And it still gives me a huge kick whenever I sell one of my own stories to an anthology, because by doing so I feel as though, in my own small way, I’m contributing to a rich, proud and long-standing genre tradition. 
The stories in Long Shadows, Nightmare Light span a period of eighteen years. Most have been published before—in anthologies, magazines and online—though a couple have been written specifically for this collection. One of the things I love about old anthologies is the one-line teaser trailers you often get for some of the stories—so here are mine.
I’ve been a big fan of Mark’s novels for many a long year, yet I had for some reason never sampled his short story work.  This is a distinguished  collection of his short stories, that showcases his damn fine writing.   PS Publishing have also done a damn fine job in the production of this book. 

Gathering together most of his tales from the past few years,The Butterfly Man and Other Stories is a stunning collection of imaginative fiction from one of the most critically acclaimed authors of recent times. A very strange quartet of drinkers gathers in an out of the way inn to discuss the end of the world, while a young boy receives a unique Christmas present. A phone call has chilling consequences, and one father’s loss is written on the wind. A family find themselves trapped inside a bizarre consumer-land, and at the same time a man who has nothing to live for considers the many ways to die. Then a burglar gets more than he bargained for while a reporter also finds his luck running out . . . There are eighteen stories here (five of them brand new), including the Sherlock Holmes adventure ‘The Greatest Mystery’, sequels to Poe’s The Masque of the Red Deathand Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, plus the moving title story and a special bonus tale in the form of Paul’s first accepted short story, never reprinted since its first appearance in 1998: ‘The Cave of Lost Souls.’

A brilliant mix of light hearted fun stories mixed in with some tense, emotional and thought provoking tales, shows the broad pallet of writing styles.  This is an excellent collection chock full of first class writing.





Murder makes monsters of people. Prosper Snow knows that better than most. Now he’s back on the trail of another serial killer, only this time there’s far more to the case than meets the eye. Thwarted at every turn, Prosper unwittingly uncovers a human experiment more monstrous than anything he could ever imagine. Now the only way to crack the case is to work from the inside and join a shadowy government agency that operates outside the law. Only he might be too late as the experiment has spiralled out of control.

I loved Shaun’s The Kult, which introduced us to the world of Prosper Snow, The Killers is a direct follow up to The Kult.  This great action filled detective novel, full of brillaint twist and turns, with a brilliant supporting cast of characters, who said sequels never live up to the original?

12.  Ian Rodgers The Black Lands Chapbooks







Felix Renn is a private investigator in a world that co-exists alongside The Black Lands, a dark dimension filled with terrifying creatures.

After the woman he’s hired to follow turns up dead, Felix discovers he has drawn the attention of the Black-Eyed Kids – supernatural entities so dark and mysterious that even the government’s elite Paranormal Intelligence Agency knows little about them.

As the bodies continue to pile up, Felix quickly discovers he has no one to turn to, and that it’s only a matter of time before the Black-Eyed Kids come calling on him.

This was my punt of the year, I had never heard of Ian before picking up these three chapbooks.  It was the cover to Black Eyed Kids that caught my eye.  These three chapbooks introduce us to a world where the supernatural Black Lands have broken through.  These three chapbooks each have a distinct style that shows the range of writing that Ian is capable of, highly enjoyable.

13  Drunk on The Moon by Paul  D Brazill, Julia Madeline Alan Leverone et al 



The first in series of short stories brought to you from some of the edgiest dark fiction writers around

When a full moon fills the night sky, P I Roman Dalton becomes a werewolf and prowls the dark streets of the city battling creatures of evil.

Paul D Brazill’s Drunk On The Moon is an intense and hard-boiled noir / horror short story series, brought to you by some of the finest dark fiction writers around.

This is a brilliant on going series of novelletes, based around the adventures of werewolf PI Roman Dalton.  These are brilliant faced paced, gritty, with a nice line of humour running through it.  The are a  perfect mix of classic noir and horror, and won’t fail to entertain 



14 The Left Hand by Serenity J Banks 




Meet Eddie Kane: ex-cokehead and current, clueless sidekick to the enigmatic Calif Cryste, badass vampire hunter extraordinaire-and unforthcoming warrior of God. In the midst of a two-man crusade to put a kibosh on the vampire populations currently besieging the tribal lands of the Midwest, Eddie can’t help but notice that the string of death and destruction in their wake has begun to draw a certain, uncomfortable amount of attention from the local media. Enter obsessed FBI Special Agent Doug Degulchi, suspended from the bureau over his proofless conviction that these two are “the guys,” and Eddie finds himself an unwilling player in an over-arching drama as Calif’s own misguided sort of apostles begin to fall into place. Meanwhile, the vampire hordes race to multiply their ranks in anticipation of a coming battle even Calif cannot (or will not) predict, and Eddie hasn’t even had a chance to face his own demons yet. Whether or not Eddie’s prepared to accept the truth, though, the second-born is here to wage war… on his own, if he has to.

Dark Continents Press has published some truly great books this year.  The Left Hand, keeps the tradition up.  This is a unique twist on a vampire tale.  Moving, original, and well written, this is the perfect cure for those of you sick of sparkly emo vampires.

15 Dark Heart : The Purgatory of Leo Stamp 



On Leo’s sixteenth birthday, something bad happened. Something so traumatic his mind fractured, and darkness filled the crack. Twenty years on and the crack is a canyon. The schizophrenic hallucination that once offered sympathy has taken to mocking him, and the memory of that long-ago birthday claws at his darkest fears, overshadowing even the murder of his younger brother Davey. But just when life can’t get any worse… Leo dies.
A demon returns after twenty years.

An angel follows close behind.

Leo is caught in an age-old conflict, his past lying at the dark heart of it all.


I had to think long and hard about this one, I even considered making this a top twenty list when I came to the crunch.  There were so many other books fighting it out.  In the end this book won out.  One of the main reasons is the book still sticks with me six months after reading it.  For a début novel this is a killer read, dark, complex and compelling. I’m looking forward to the next novel from Mr Guest.

So there it is folks, this has been a great year for reading.  You may not all agree with the fifteen books up there, but hey that’s your problem, not mine.   I’ll never apologise for my taste in books.

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12 thoughts on “MY TOP 15 READS OF THE YEAR

  1. I have been fortunate enough to read "Quiet Houses" and can agree that it is one of the best books of 2011. The 1st Spectral Chapbook that I have got is "King Death", that also has been received today only, but it looks good.

  2. Really interesting list. My own lists are coming out next week and I see we both sing Cate's praises.I've got Gary McMahon's novel sitting on my bookshelf, and I think I'm gonna have to sneak it up the queue a little more after reading this.

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