It’s almost hard to believe that 2019 is coming to an end. It seems like only yesterday I was writing up my list of the Best Horror Books of 2018! Yet here we are, with only a few days left in December, and it’s time again to reflect on another amazing year in publishing.
As a whole, 2019 brought an outstanding mix of non-fiction books and novels from established authors as well as debuts from brilliant new voices in the genre. So, without further ado, let’s count down my picks for the best the year had to offer.
#7 The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
Dark and, well, twisting, The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher, a pen name for Hugo Award-winning novelist Ursula Vernon, is an amazing novel with an interesting tie back to the work of legendary author Arthur Machen.
The story centers on Melissa who goes by the nickname Mouse. When she’s asked to go and clean out her grandmother’s house after her death, Mouse agrees thinking it will be an easy job. What she failed to grasp was that her grandmother was a bit of a hoarder and the house is filled to the brim with piles of seeming trash.
While trying to complete her task, she finds a journal kept by her late step-grandfather, Frederick Cotgrave, with whom she’d never been especially close. What she initially deems as chaotic ramblings soon takes on a much more sinister tone, however, when she discovers that the strange creatures and beings he had written about are real and live in the surrounding woods.
That’s where things get really interesting.
Some of you may have already picked up on it, but Cotgrave was the name of a character in Arthur Machen’s “The White People,” a tale which H.P. Lovecraft considered one of the greatest horror stories ever written. In The Twisted Ones, Kingfisher creates a reality in which this character was actually Mouse’s step-grandfather and his journal becomes a historic record of terror.
In the hands of a less talented author, all of this twisting and turning could easily fall apart, but Kingfisher handles it beautifully, creating one of the most memorable books of 2019. If you haven’t read it, I cannot recommend it enough. It’s available in multiple formats on Amazon!
#6 Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky
When one is looking for a great horror novel, the author who wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not necessarily who comes to mind, and yet Stephen Chbosky created one of this year’s most interesting and compelling literary horror novels.
The story focuses on Kate and her son, Christopher, on the run from her abusive relationship. When they settle in a small town in Pennsylvania, she finally feels she might be able to relax, until Christopher goes missing and returns six days later with a mission and an imaginary friend.
Imaginary Friend is horror with the fantastic qualities of fairy tales blended in, and it is an epic read that you won’t soon forget. Pick up a copy today and see for yourself why Joe Hill (Horns, NOS4A2) said, “If you aren’t blown away by the first fifty pages of Imaginary Friend, you need to have your sense of wonder checked.”
#5 A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill
Shaun Hamill’s A Cosmology of Monsters is one of the best debut novels from an author that I have ever had the satisfaction of reading.
Noah’s family has been perilously close to a world filled with monsters since long before he was born. His father, before his death, built a shrine to them in the guise of an immersive haunted attraction which became a family business. His sister had glimpses of them right up until the day she vanished. And Noah? He eventually befriends them.
What’s more, Hamill’s imaginative writing and terrifying landscape forces us to define and redefine “family” and “monster” as his tale unfolds. What begins has an out-stretched hand inviting you into his world, soon becomes a deadly claw ready to rend flesh to keep you reading, which you will, right up until its bold ending.
You will question your own life, your choices, and wonder just how close you’ve come to monsters along the way as you navigate A Cosmology of Monsters, and by the end you will not only have been terrified and entertained, you will be changed.
Don’t believe me? Pick up a copy on Amazon and see for yourself.
#4 The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
This is the debut novel from Starling, and she proves herself a careful and crafty plotter, telling a story with just two characters and a single setting–a cave on an alien world–with a remarkable amount of tension.
Gyre has lied to get hired for a job in the hopes of making enough money to take her off world in search of her long-lost mother. Em is her guide and she’s got an agenda beyond what Gyre understood as the mission. Even though Gyre “knows” she’s alone, she can’t shake the feeling of being followed and the terrifying truth will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The novel plays out like a cross between Annihilation and Gravity, and it should definitely be on the reading list of anyone who, like me, enjoys the dead space where horror and science fiction intersect.
If you haven’t read The Luminous Dead, check it out today!
#3 The Invited: A Novel by Jennifer McMahon
Jennifer McMahon’s The Invited: A Novel has one of the most interesting premises I’ve found as a reader in a long time creating a scenario where a couple does not buy a haunted house, but instead manages to build one. It’s a novel that would make Shirley Jackson proud.
Helen and Nate decide to leave their suburban life behind, purchasing a large plot of land with the intention of building the dream house. Helen soon discovers that the land itself has a dark past tied to a woman named Hattie Breckenridge and the three generations of Breckenridge women, all of whom died in rather suspicious ways.
Helen becomes so fascinated by local history that she begins bringing artifacts into the home such as a beam from an abandoned school house and the mantle from an old farm. Unfortunately for her, she brings along the energy from those places to her new home as well.
It’s a captivating story that will chill you to the bone. If you’re a fan of ghost stories, The Invited should definitely be on your reading list.
#2 The Institute by Stephen King
At 72 years old, Stephen King still reigns as the master of horror with more movie adaptations of his work than you can shake a stick at and no end to the stories he seems ready to tell.
The Institute, which hit bookshelves back in September, became an instant hit and in many ways feels like old school King in the best of ways with his story of psychically gifted children forced into a prison known as The Institute where a woman named Mrs. Sigsby and her staff attempt to extract these gifts by whatever extreme measures they deem fit.
Luke Ellis, who was taken in the middle of the night and brought to the Institute, soon finds himself in a fight for survival as he attempts what no one has ever succeeded in doing: escaping the Institute.
It’s a pulse-pounding novel that will have you on the edge of your seat rooting for Luke and his fellows as he rockets toward an ending you have to read to believe.
If you haven’t read it yet, there’s still time to put The Institute on your wish list for the holidays.
#1 Monster, She Wrote: The Women who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson
I thought long and hard about including Monster, She Wrote on this list as I know most are looking for novels to read when they click on these lists, but really, that’s the beauty of this incredible book by Kroger and Anderson.
You see, they don’t simply list the incredible women who have helped shape the genre we love, providing background on their lives and how they came to write their own particular brands of horror and speculative fiction. They take it a step further, recommending stories and novels by these authors and a list of other writers who the reader might enjoy if they are fans of a particular author.
It’s an incredible book that takes the reader on a journey through the building blocks of the genre, spotlighting well known authors as well as those who may have never been on your radar.
If you’re interested at all in the authors who shaped what we read today Monster, She Wrote is definitely the book for you!
HONORABLE MENTION: Ghost Stories: Classic Tales of Horror and Suspense by Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger
This is one of those collections that should be on every horror reader’s shelf. The only reason why I did not include it on the list proper is because everything collected here has been published any number of times.
However, there is an art to putting together an anthology and Klinger and Morton prove themselves artists with Ghost Stories. Each tale included in the collection is from a master storyteller, but they were careful to include those stories that were, perhaps, less well known.
What emerges is a catalog of chilling tales from Edith Wharton, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Mark Twain to name just a few complete with notations about the story and the author.
This makes an excellent gift for the reader in your life, and is perfect for those gloomy evenings of winter settled in next to a fire with coffee, tea, or perhaps a large brandy. Pick up a copy on Amazon.